First Day Blues

Posted by Ge Cuason on 16. Apr 2009

Apparently, the first few days before the official start of classes requires one to wake up at 8am for registration, the placement test and checking up on the results. But of course, now that it's my second term, I couldn't be bothered waking up that early. (Well, except for the placement test... but I was still late.)

Last term's placement test was more interesting than this one. Placement tests consist of converting pinyin to Chinese characters, reading aloud said characters using pinyin and an interview with the teacher.

I use the word "interesting" because I studied Chinese back home, from elementary to high school, for close to 10 years. I know! You're probably wondering what I'm doing here having studied the language for almost a decade. When I studied Chinese in the 1990s back home, we had three subjects:

综合 (zōnghé) comprehensive, 华语 (huáyǔ) Chinese language and 数学 (shùxué) Mathematics.

The first two subjects basically required us to memorize words and sentences without using them in a conversation, aka, rote memorization.

The third subject, Mathematics in Chinese, was a bit easier to understand, perhaps because our Chinese teacher was more willing to explain and divulge shortcuts in solving math problems than our English teacher.

Nevertheless, I still failed my Chinese math exam.

I use Fújiàn when I do multiplication. And instead of learning pinyin, we learned bopomofo. In addition, we learned how to write in Traditional Chinese characters instead of the Simplified ones. Which means basically, I'm good at writing, but suck in reading, listening and speaking Mandarin.

Also, we were swamped with so much homework from our English and Filipino subjects, we didn't pay much attention to our Chinese subjects (which I regret now).

And I think there are about two out of 30 students in our Chinese class who really know how to read and speak Mandarin fluently. And so, I was placed in A8 Class (A being the lowest and F the highest).

BLCU, Day One

Like any other occasion where we meet other people for the first time, most of us tend to just keep quiet and observe. We fumbled with our pens, new notebooks, electronic dictionaries or made imaginary texts on our mobile phones. We tried our best to look nonchalant, sit attentively or slouch back on the seat to exude that "Yeah, I'm cool" effect.

You can definitely feel the air of excitement and anxiousness as my classmates and I gathered in our classroom.

Our teacher, Wang Laoshi, made us introduce ourselves. And since we were in A 班 (bān) class, we tried our best to explain our Chinese names, our native countries, and say whatever stock-Mandarin we had to the class.

But most of us just spoke English just to make it easier for both parties. We also used hand gestures to make our point across, which I think failed.

After the introduction, the teacher went straight to the lesson. It was fairly easy since I'm familiar with the basic words, but I had trouble keeping up with how the pinyin works plus the Simplified characters.

I prefer traditional characters because they look more authentic. But then again, those of the simplified variety are easier to write and don't take as much time.

My classes are just in the mornings. In the afternoons, I usually go out and explore Beijing. But after awhile, it gets tiring and exploring in the afternoons is not enough, so I decided to enroll myself in two of the afternoon electives BLCU offers.

One of the classes I took up is a sport elective called Long Stick, which is like Kung Fu with a long stick; the other elective is Chinese Calligraphy and Painting.

The Long Stick class was great: we meet twice weekly for about two hours. The teacher is cool, too. He was patient with us even when we failed to understand what he was saying in Mandarin. He even did an awesome back flip in front of us, presumably to show that he is indeed an authentic Kung Fu teacher.

Bystanders lingered around the track and field stopped to watch us do our stick-flipping moves. How cool is that?

The Chinese Calligraphy and Painting class left a lot to be desired. Our teacher just made us sift through piles and piles of books and magazines about Chinese calligraphy and painting and made us copy whatever we saw on those pages.

After we finished a failed attempt in duplicating these drawings, he'd come over to our respective areas and either offer praise for a job well done, or tell you to do something else instead because you suck at it. (Of course he didn't exactly say "You suck!" But he told one of my classmates who couldn't draw a mountain to draw a rabbit instead, "Because your mountain no good!")

Now that I am in my second term here, I've learned some things. I've learned to wake up and go to class later -- skip class even -- and not care what the teacher would say. I've also learned that you could insist in enrolling yourself in local Chinese students' extra-curricular activities to experience the real deal... at a cheaper price, too!

And lastly, I've learned that my hopes of China converting back to traditional characters are futile.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Rob Rogoyski.



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