September 19, 2009
Since I wrote last time, we have finished some important tasks – actually, Lulu finished them. All we had to do was to go here, go there, have tests done, etc. So now we are officially certified Foreign Experts.
Moving on, we have noticed a interesting feature of purchasing stuff here. Basically, you can buy the big items for household use in most sizeable department stores, but the stuff that you need to use the big items is not available at the same store, and the clerks look at you like you are nuts for asking for them. Two cases in point: We bought an HP printer for our computer, and this same printer is available in every department store we have visited, but only one – the giant store a long way away downtown has ink cartridges for it. So, I am ordering them from the guy who sells and services university electronics. Second case: I wanted to buy the DVD player I mentioned earlier, but the idea of also selling cables to connect it to the TV was totally absent. I guess you buy the DVD player and then hunt around until you find an electronic geek shop that sells cables. (Confession: I have, after the incident in the store, discovered that the cables you need are in the box, and I thought that “mei you” meant that they don’t have cables in the store – well, true, but the fact that the cables you need are in the box would have been useful information!)
ROTC. I’m sure that is not what the Chinese call it, and I have no idea what they call it other than “military training,” but it is in full force. I asked Lulu about it because they are at it all day everyday – everyone wearing camouflage outfits ( — and the women even have very nice camouflage purses J ), and she said, “yes, that was one of the most fun experiences of college!” It turns out that all freshmen have to take military training for two full weeks before they start classes the first semester. So, I think yesterday was the last day of military training. I hope so, anyway. They are so thick in the mornings on the campus streets forming up into their units that we have a hard time getting through.
This brings me to a point Deb wanted mentioned – the incredible ballet that moving from place to place involves. Pedestrians, motorcycles, electric bikes, taxis, buses (remember: gonggongqiche) – everything moving in or near streets and paths travel in any direction at any time that suits them, and just aim for the nearest seam that looks to open up when we get there! Few mistakes are made, and people are totally comfortable with this. If, for example, you are driving your car and want to make a left turn onto the next street at the next intersection, you just move over into on-coming traffic (car or bicycle lanes) and slowly drive through the maze until you are somewhere near the intersection, then you start making a very slow left turn that scraps or runs over the sidewalk curb on your left, and proceed up the left lane through oncoming traffic until within a block or two, you move on over into one of the right lanes! Having observed this for three weeks, now, we are now following suit, and it actually makes our morning ride to work safer and easier because, we aren’t crossing two automobile traffic paths in order to get into what we (stupidly) assumed were the correct lanes for the direction we were traveling! The same sort of negotiations must take place constantly in the bike lanes because on-coming vehicles are in all possible places, so everyone weaves through the traffic. In addition to that, for some reason, pedestrians seem to like to walk in the bike lanes rather than the ten foot wide sidewalks, so the lanes are also full of people walking in all directions!
Finally, as I have mentioned before, elementary kids are let out at 4:30, so if I am at the intersection of the big street (Wen Hua Xilu) that runs on the south side of the university at 4:30-4:45, there are hundreds of little kids in their various uniforms going home on campus (because for many at the nearby schools their parents are university employees). Well, a couple of days ago, a little (maybe 7 year old) girl, eating an ice cream on a stick started across the 8 automobile lanes, and after she got to the second lane, the signal started to flash (I knew that it would be doing so, so I had stopped in the safe circle (I think that is what it is – sort of like “home free.” No matter how much you would like to take someone out, if they are in the safe circle, it would be considered bad form to do so! ). So, the little girl scurried across the next two lanes and then stopped on the solid line that separates the two directions of traffic flow (or the idea of traffic flow) and stood there, finishing her ice cream as trucks, gonggongqiche, and cars hurried past her in both directions. She seemed unstressed about the matter. I was a little stressed, but when the light changed, she scampered on across, and I pedaled across in the other direction. By the way, the signals tell you how much time you have before they change, so I assume she knew that she was going to get only half way across (and there is not safety circle there!)
Well,, you guessed it! Moon Cake Day is coming right up! We’re getting boxes of moon cakes from everyone. The cakes are about three inches in diameter and an inch tall, and they taste somewhat like fruitcake or fig newtons, and the boxes have generally 10 of that size and a larger one about 4 times that size. There are also different flavors among the cakes. Moon Cake Day is a lunar festival, so it’s calendar date changes from year to year. This year it is going to be around October 1 and that will make it bump into National Day festival (the celebrating of the founding of the People’s Republic of China!) Furthermore, since this is the 60th anniversary of National Day, it will be bigger than usual. TV says that air and train service is being geared up for 20% heavier travel than last year. Deb and I are staying here in Weihai to enjoy the festivities here.
We had a cool experience for dinner on the 15th. We had noticed a lot of people eating at sidewalk café near the Eastgate, so we peddled over there for dinner, and discovered that it was a sort of street barbeque place, where the barbeque cook was cooking on grills on the sidewalk (which is 15 or 20 feet wide). However, none of the wait staff could speak English and since we have the Chinese vocabulary of a fetus, we were searching for ways to figure out what were wanted to order. The waitress was very tolerant until new diners arrived, and then she asked a couple of young guys (I’m guessing University students) to take our order for us. They spoke some English, but even with my electronic dictionary, we weren’t really getting too far, so we told them to order something good for us. They asked us what we liked, so we said pork or chicken. So, they ordered four dishes for us, and would not accept any gratuity. They seemed totally happy to have been helpful, and shortly departed. They food arrived in the order that it took to prepare from scratch. So we had bokchoy first. Then, spicy barbequed chicken k-bobs– delicious, then fried rice, and then chicken sautéed in brown, sweet sauce of some kind. We thought this might well be the best meal yet. All for ￥44 ( almost $7). Photo of the owner’s dog attached.
Last night, we went to a pizza party the International Student Association (SICA) Moon Cake Day put on for foreign teachers so we could meet the students and the other teachers. There are two sets of Canadians, two French teachers, two Koreans, two Japanese, two sets of Americans, and a couple from the UK. The students entertained us with beautiful calligraphy and music, and they brought a birthday cake for one of the French teachers whose birthday is this week. We also had mooncake and pizza. It was fun and time went by very quickly.
Our Chinese classes are still helpful but frustrating. Since we don’t know enough Chinese to follow the teacher’s assignment yet, we are constantly embarrassed that we are prepared for the wrong thing or as in the case yesterday, we get to class, no one is there, but we saw one of the Korean students who showed us that the class would be across the hall in a room that was locked. It turned out when the teacher arrived and let us in, that yesterday was the day to go to language lab – which was cool. Not very hard – if we had had the correct books, but we didn’t, so if we had been in the US, we would have been the laughing stock of the century. But here, the teacher helped us along – I’m sure asking himself, “Lord, what did I do to deserve these idiots in my class…” Anyway, I have high hopes that soon, I will have the Chinese vocabulary of a neonate. Deb and I have hired Sue, a senior English major, to tutor us in Chinese, and yesterday was our first day with her. After two hours of her explaining that we aren’t getting the pronunciation right for various tones and initial sounds (consonants, +/-) and final sounds (vowels, +/-) for the 800th time in a row, I am afraid that she is going to jump in front of the next gonggongqiche she sees! (Deb has the tones almost down, but I can’t even hear them, while I have most of the basic sounds pretty well down, aside from the tones.)
The classes we teach are sort of the mirror image of the classes we take. Our classes are entirely in English, and we go as slowly as we think we can. The first lecture that I prepared is only about half finished after four hours of class, but the students keep apologizing for their poor English (though they have the vocabulary of a typical U.S. college student, sans slang), and asking that we slow down just a little more! The point of our teaching is to force the students to listen to a native speaker use English, but in my case, I am sure they are wondering of what country I am a native! By the way, most pre-school and elementary kids we see can say “hello” to us, and obviously their parents are encouraging them to learn English!