Sunday, December 7: Inspired by Dai of An Englishman’s Life in Kathmandu, I thought I’d write some random thoughts about life in China. Dai often writes 10 thoughts, but we’ll see if I can come up with that many.
1) My first thought is that today, Pearl Harbor Day in the U.S., is my youngest son Adam’s 22nd birthday. I really miss him, and I feel awful that I’ve missed too many of his birthdays, being away as I often am. He used to love for me to make a fruit pizza for him on this day, and I think he’s done without while I’ve been away. Last year, I was home for his birthday but he wasn’t. He was traveling across the USA from to California to New Mexico and back to Virginia. The previous two years he and my other son Alex came to visit me in Oman. I don’t think they will come to China as they are working to get their own lives in order. I send all my love to Adam on this, his special day.
2) I finally went to see two movies in the last week here in Nanning. Last week, two teachers and two students and I went to an IMAX theater down the street from the university’s main gate and watched Interstellar, translated into Chinese as “Star-crossed.” It was a great experience seeing it in that IMAX theater, so up close and personal, and though fantastical, I enjoyed the movie immensely. And that’s from someone who doesn’t like futuristic or space movies at all.
Friday night, I tried another movie theater on the third floor of Nan Bai Supermarket. It’s VERY conveniently located. Luckily, at that theater, the ticket girl could speak excellent English. I could see there were all Chinese movies showing, so I asked the girl if any of the movies had English subtitles. She made a phone call and it took some time to find out, but I found that Fleet of Time was the only movie showing with English subtitles (I have a feeling it is meant to be translated as The Fleeing of Time). She told me it was a romance. I wish more Chinese movies had English subtitles; it would be ridiculous for me to try to watch a movie without them as I’d have no clue what was happening. I enjoyed the movie as it was about a group of high school friends and their love interests and it followed them into their university years and beyond into their thirties. It gave me some new insights into my own students here at the university.
3) Speaking of the students at SCIC, after midterms were over, our students were reshuffled into different classes. This caused a huge disruption and led to much unhappiness for students and teachers alike. The big college entrance examination in China, called the Gaokao, should have already sorted the students from day one, but the administration decided they would “give the students who might not have tested well on the Gaokao another chance to prove themselves.” So all the students were thrown randomly into our classes, with both high and low-level students in each class. At midterm, the students who got exceptionally high marks on midterm exams were moved into the highest level classes, and the students who got exceptionally low marks were moved into the lowest classes. I teach a mid-level class of freshmen, so I kept the majority of my students.
We had a half a semester to bond with our students. After midterm we lost many of our students; at the same time we also got new students from other classes. Now there are definite divisions in the class; as all of my new students came from one class, they have bonded, while my students who stayed with me have all bonded with each other and with me. It’s very difficult to convince the new students I’m okay for them, and that they can blend with my old students. Many students keep running back to their old teachers and their old fellow students at break time and after classes are over. I feel bad for them. Even one of my old students, who was moved to another mid-level class for no apparent reason, came begging me to sign a letter allowing her back into my class. This has happened across the board. I hope it will all work out okay in the end.
4) My students from my number 8 class (some of whom are pictured above), who are really wonderful students and lively people all around, started texting me one evening this week through WeChat, commonly used in China. They said they wanted to cook a Chinese dinner for me at Christmas and wanted to do it in my house. They said they’d buy everything and clean up everything. I warned them that all 40 of them would be very crowded in my small apartment; I said they are welcome to do it, but they must understand how small the space is. The next day in class, they said they would rent a room off campus so that the whole class could fit comfortably. We’ll see how it all works out. 🙂
5) I have never seen so many people attached to their phones as I’ve seen in China. I see people riding their e-bikes across campus or in the busy city, driving cars, walking ~ all totally absorbed in their phones. When I give my class a 10-minute break, I come back to find them in utter silence, all tapping away frantically at their phones. They watch movies or TV shows online, and they buy everything on Taobao.com, THE premiere online shopping website. I wish they would learn that life itself, if they opened themselves up to it, is much more interesting than anything they could find on their cell phones!
6) We have a lot of lotus ponds around the campus and now all that’s left of them are brown ugly stalks. One day while walking, I was surprised to come across these men wading in the ponds cleaning up the dead lotus leaves.
7) One day I was walking to Wal-Mart, a place I NEVER shop in the U.S. but I’ve found to be quite useful for Western items here in China. In the distance I saw a huge white pile of something moving slowly toward us down the street. When it got up closer, I could see it was a lady transporting a huge load of styrofoam on her bicycle. The styrofoam lady!
8) I’m starting to feel very depressed by the gray skies here in Nanning. When I first got here, it was always hazy, but you could see blue skies behind the haze. However, I hated the weather because of the heat and humidity. Every time I walked out the door of my air-conditioned apartment, I was immediately drenched in sweat. Now that autumn is upon us, it’s cooler but still very damp, and with gray skies almost every day. On one day last week, I went for a walk and was happy to find some blue skies. Here’s what a blue sky day looks like on the campus.
9) Students on the campus are constantly involved in group activities. I see dancing, aerobics, exercise, marching, singing — every activity imaginable. A couple of weeks ago, the students from the Student Union handed out a flyer asking people to submit photos for a photo exhibit. I sent a couple of my favorites in. Today was the exhibition at the sports field. I dropped by to find my students, Albert and Leo. As I walked down the chain link fence, admiring all the photos taken by students and teachers alike, all the students there, about 12 altogether, followed me down the line. I was asked to vote for 3 of my favorites, and Albert followed me as I voted, looking over my shoulder and asking me to sign my name. So much for a private ballot! I voted for Albert’s photo and two others by students I didn’t know but met today.
I loved this student’s two photos of boats on Erhai Lake near Lijiang in Yunnan province, a place I want to visit over my winter holiday.
My photos were all displayed here, but you can’t see them very well. Four were from Oman, one from Nepal and one from Yangshuo.
The students convinced me to have a seat and play a matching card game. The cards had the photos from the exhibit on them. When I found two that matched, I could remove them. They timed each competitor and the one who was the fastest would win. I wasn’t the fastest but I wasn’t the slowest either.
I went over the check out the Ming china competition, and I found my students, Eva and Fiona, playing with clay.
10) This weekend, I’m feeling very unmotivated to go out and explore. It’s cold and skies are gray, so I just feel like hunkering down in my apartment and staying cozy. Last weekend, I had quite a social weekend, seeing Interstellar on Friday night, going to Babel downtown on Saturday night for a colleague’s birthday, having pizza with some friends on Sunday. This weekend, once again, not a soul seems to be around, and I’m feeling rather unsociable. My needs for company come and go with the wind; sometimes I feel really lonely here and other times I’m perfectly happy being alone. But that is the nature of the expat life. I am really looking forward to Mike’s visit in late January or early February. I think it will be here before I know it. I have a lot of travel planning to do before his arrival. 🙂