As the fourth day of official classes, it feels like we’re settling in nicely. I’m in second to lowest level Chinese class with two other students from our group and five students from Waterloo University. Class starts at 8:00am and many of us grab a quick breakfast before heading to class. Conveniently, every morning there are two food carts right outside our dorm, selling baozi (steamed buns) and the like, and jianbing, all for under a dollar. So far I’ve been getting something different every day, and it’s all been delicious. It’s something I’ll definitely miss back at school in the USA.
Class itself is challenging but I feel that I’ve learned a lot by the end of the day. Frankly, I’m amazed how much my Chinese has improved with not quite a week full of classes. Class is split into two sections, one that runs from 8 to 10 and the other which goes from 10 to 12. The two sections are taught by different teachers. Because the class started a week before we arrived, we are a bit behind. Many of us also have our first tests tomorrow so everyone has been studying hard.
After class, some of us wandered across the street to eat lunch at a nearby restaurant. We each paid the equivalent of $2 at the end. Then most of us went on our way. Something I’ve found challenging while going out and about is that basically everyone automatically assumes I speak Chinese. This is especially awkward when I’m travelling with non-Asian friends. When trying to order food or buy something, the shopkeeper will immediately look to me and speak very quickly, even though my Chinese is invariably the worst in the group. It’s happened a few times so far, and I expect it to happen again. Hopefully in a couple weeks my Chinese is enough to respond, though I’ll probably always have to ask them to speak more slowly. I think this confuses many people that I look Chinese but don’t speak Chinese and I’ve had to explain that I’m adopted from China quite a bit, but it allows me to have conversations and practice my Chinese more.
Tonight, from 6:30 to 8:00, we had an optional calligraphy class, where we learned about the four great treasures of the study, the brush, paper, ink, and inkstone, as well as got to try our hands at seal script. Seal script is the ancient script developed as the original characters that Chinese writing today evolved from. We copied pictures of characters originally inscribed on a bronze describing the split of a village and which families were to go where. After a couple practice sheets, we were given a special type of paper that takes a year to create and can only be made in Anhui, and each created our own masterpiece. In the end after signing our names in Chinese, each was stamped with a red seal. Though writing on the Anhui paper which took a year to make was rather nerve wracking, the class was a lot of fun and I look forward to the one next week.