Today was the first day of class! I was a bit nervous for it, but really should not have been. The ‘international student convocation’ was cancelled that was supposed to be the first thing in the morning. We decided it was because they are so paranoid about the swine flu here and didn’t want to gather us all in one place because I guess not everyone had gone and gotten their physicals. Lol. We went downstairs and they had teachers with signs with numbers of different classes on them! When we registered on Tuesday they assigned us a class and we bought books and they wrote our class number on our student ID. There were a bunch of students milling around from all different countries and Chinese teachers yelling out numbers of classes and pointing vigorously to their signs and no one seemed to know what was going on until one teacher came with a bunch of different numbers on her sign and we all traipsed after her about 3 tenths of a mile to the front of the library, where there were more students and more teachers all yelling. Eventually we got that group split up into two, and the half I was in went another half a mile to the class building where I now have class! Once we got up to the fourth floor where all of our classrooms were, we had another mess on our hands. There were no signs on the doors for which class was supposed to be where, and it seemed as if there were not enough teachers for each class! After much yelling, signs were put on the doors and the students organized themselves into these classrooms. By this time Laura and I had sat down on the floor and reluctantly moved into our rooms.
After all of the English-speaking students in my class had introduced ourselves and gotten comfortable with everything on our desks and ready, waiting for a teacher, they moved us into another room! Ugh finally we were in the place we were supposed to be, and our teacher came in and introduced herself and worked out who was there and what our Zhongwen mingzi shi –Chinese name was. Mine is Ruiqi.
We actually have 2 teachers each day, for two hours apiece. When the next teacher came in, we started working on what are called initials – basically, each word you hear spoken has a consonant beginning and an ending called a final. So we worked on the pinyin, or Romanized version of how to write Chinese learning how the spellings sound. Very, very basic stuff that I learned a year ago and was a bit frustrated with being put in this class. Although I love my tongxue - classmates.
After class ended I waited for Laura’s class to finish (I’m pretty sure their clock is like five minutes slower than ours because she always gets out later than we do) and we walked the mile or so back to our dorm to get some lunch.
When we finished lunch and were chilling in our room – me working on a layout for this website and Laura studying for her quiz the next day – someone knocked on our door! It turned out to be one of the foreign exchange English teachers from the States who is friends with my Li laoshi – my Chinese teacher from when I was studying at MSU! She gave me a piece of paper with Li laoshi’s contact information on it, including where her office was and that she was there at the moment! I quickly put on my shoes and made sure I had everything I needed in the bag I was taking and headed over to her office to surprise her and say hi. We spoke for about an hour and made plans for doing dinner after her classes and responsibilities next week either Monday or Wednesday. It will be very pleasant.
I came back to my dorm room and Jim came over and chilled and we just hung out. It was pleasant. Jim and decided that we did not want to eat in the cafeteria that is here in our building, and that we wanted to go exploring. I grabbed my bag and we headed out.
We decided that we wanted to go somewhere new that we had not been to yet, and that we should probably take a bus to be able to do this in a somewhat speedy manner. We picked a bus number that we knew would run back to campus as well, and hopped on, paying the yi kuai – one RMB, or about 15 cents, to ride the bus.
About three stops down the route, maybe a mile or so off campus, we saw a few restaurants along the street and decided they looked likely so we got off the No. 11 bus and proceeded to cross the street to get to the restaurants. We peeked in a few of the doors and windows, and settled on a restaurant that had live eels and fish swimming around in tanks right at the front that looked pretty nice with their bowls and cups wrapped together in plastic on the table to prove that they were clean. (Occasionally the water comes out red, and even worse, brown – when you shower, you just have to pretend it’s not true and go on with your day.)
This is when the whole start of the shenanigans began! I can sort of speak some things, and understand even less. Needless to say I should have definitely kept up with studying more than I did this summer, but I didn’t. It was probably the funniest and coolest experience I have had yet. We were expecting them to bring out menus with pictures and words like restaurants we have gone to in the past have done, but this was not to be so. They got across that what we were supposed to order from was the list of 50 or so different dishes that were underneath the glass table top – all in Chinese characters! I have not studied any food characters, and don’t really know how to pronounce any of the words, so I broke out my text book that has a dictionary of sorts in the back, and began pointing. The waitress took the time to try and understand what we wanted, and was very patient and kept asking questions, which of course I could not understand. I kept bursting out into laughter after about 10 minutes of us attempting to communicate and them seemingly not understanding.
Eventually either the cook or the owner came out and brought a handful of live, wet clams and pointed and asked us if we wanted some of that. We responded enthusiastically and he looked pleased. The other couple who was in the restaurant were enjoying the show that was free along with dinner, and almost all of the staff in the restaurant were sort of congregated toward the back in the kitchen, looking at us and laughing and trying to help figure out what sort of food we wanted. The waitress kept coming back and forth, and I think spoke some English but kept covering her mouth and laughing and saying stuff in Chinese. The whole situation was so funny and great and they were so nice and eager to make sure to get us what types of food we wanted – something that would never happen stateside if someone could only speak 10 words of English.
Eventually we must have gotten sweet and sour pork across, and I thought rice, but that never showed up. Jim pointed and got some of his Tsingtao beer in a huge bottle and the cook brought out a bowl full of peppers and got across through pantomiming whether or not we wanted them cooked in our clams. We decided not to, and then I looked up the word for dumplings, which are amazing, and ordered a plate of those as well.
The food was amazing and they brought it all out piping hot! You can see in the pictures that I sent out earlier how much food it was! The whole dinner only cost 62 kuai, which is less than 10 dollars! (70 kuai is about 10 bucks)
I think they were really surprised how much food we put away once we got it. We ate the whole bowl of clams, almost all of the pork, and more than half of the dumplings. Once we were done, we left the restaurant and there was a small local night market along the street that had been set up as we were eating. We wandered around in it for a while, saw a local grocery and went in to check it out. Jim found some darker brewed Tsingtao beer, and got some of it, and I got an ice cream bar that was amazing - the perfect ending to a great meal.
Once we turned to head home, we realized that we weren’t sure which buses went back to the University, so we decided to walk. It was about a mile walk and was great because the nights are perfect here right now. All in all, it was a great first day of school in a new country with great experiences to be had, if you have enough of a sense of adventure to have them.