I also was able to show off my newly-discovered party trick that actually takes no effort at all to execute: First, I show how bad I am at using chopsticks, in a really illustrative way, with little bits of random vegetables taking flight all around me. No one says anything, which is polite, but I notice that the other American teacher (who is lovely) actually gets complimented on his ability to maneuver pieces of meat to his mouth using wood sticks instead of a tiny, steel garden hoe. Then, the real twist, is when I give up using the chopsticks in a fit of exasperation (iceberg lettuce don't care about culture), and...I demonstrate that I'm equally as bad at using a fork as I am at using chopsticks. No one expects this part! Everyone, regardless of nationality, is confused. Don't even get me started on knives! Really, I mean it! It's not safe.
I was best in Uganda and Lao, where people often use their fingers as implements and carve their food into beautiful sculptures that help facilitate eating.
As usual, I had no idea what our social lunch was supposed to be, but that's okay. I guess it was just a lunch. But, sometimes a lunch is more than a lunch, amiright?
Since I've written you, a lot has happened. In fact, maybe too much. I was all set on having an Emerson-type weekend, where I reflect on the subtle nuances of morning light and stare at ponds, but then suddenly all of these people came out of the woodwork and asked me to do things, and so I did things instead. Probably it was good for me. Last Friday night, I walked to my friend Danny's American-style brewery in Wuhan, where he had whipped up some vegetarian chile rellenos and tacos for me to lift towards my mouth. It was nice walking in Wuhan at night. I walked past a jumbo jet airplane just hanging out on the sidewalk, which was definitely a shock, and then right next to it was a mini carnival park with an old-fashioned German trolley playing creepy music. The juxtaposition was truly amazing! Actually, the reason for the german trolley is because it is on the "longest pedestrian street in the world" (so-called!) and each block represents a different country, and I guess Germany is partially summed up with jumbo jets and merry go-rounds.
There's also a Renaissance style church building too. Besides the plane (which I heard is a restaurant!), there were some cool scenes of night life---people eating barbecue and hanging out outside.
And finally, and my complete favorite, 100%, is the experience of walking past a group of older ladies dancing outside. I had heard about this phenomenon of older folks taking over public spaces at night to do tai chi and exercise, and this frankly exceeded my expectations. This happens on my campus too!
The next day, I took my first bus journey! I went to go visit Lauryn, who is the other fellow that lives in Wuhan. In some ways it was a lot more encouraging than the subway, since a part of you has to die in order to even consider taking the subway. So, there wasn't the claustrophobia, but since buses travel on the normal ground instead of the under-the-earth ground, they are more privy to the bad moods of Wuhan traffic. Wuhan: Rush hour every hour! When I got home from the journey in the afternoon, I basically turned around right away, to go try a new vegetarian restaurant with Nadeesha and Att. This restaurant is only reachable by bus, so I had to get on another bus, and unfortunately this time it took about 1-1.5 hours each way, when it would have taken perhaps 15 minutes without traffic. This is actually why we left at 4:30pm to go eat dinner, since it's quite a production to get anywhere in Wuhan. We arrived back at campus at 8pm. Anyway, we had some of the most delicious vegetarian food I've ever had. It was another Buddhist joint and the flavors were incredibly savory. There weren't really any actual vegetables to be seen, but there were plenty of substitute meats. We ate a spicy mock fish dish, a peppery mock beef dish, and a sweet and sour dish. Amazing.
inside the restaurant:
Our three dishes, before:
Dorkily posing outside of the restaurant
The next day, I had a picnic with most of the other foreign language teachers who I hadn't met yet. They all live in the same quarantine as I do. They are nice! There were two German teachers, two french teachers, and a Mauritian man studying to be a Chinese teacher.
Later on Sunday, fortified by pasta salad and mango juice, I inhaled a deep breath (I'd been breathing earlier too), walked over to the 'playground', marched up to a group of men playing soccer, and asked to play. Unsurprisingly, they said yes. They were all Nepali students at HUST. They seemed flabbergasted that I played soccer at all but were pretty accepting once I started playing. One of my friends happened to be walking by and snapped an undercover photo:
It was an eventful weekend! Although I felt mildly stressed to be so busy with things besides lesson-planning, I think it was good for me. I think I could literally lesson-plan all-day, every day, so I need to come up with elaborate ruses to distract myself. It's not that I'm a hard-worker---it's more that I'm still adjusting to the situation and am both stressed and intellectually stimulated at the same time at the prospect of designing courses from the bottom-up. It is just too much though. Something has to give, especially since I am nearly doubling my course-load this upcoming week now that I'll be teaching pronunciation classes to freshmen.
This last week's classes were fun. I incorporated more group-work into the classes and made them as interactive as possible. I plan to do that as much as possible even though writing doesn't always lend itself to interaction. I continue to be blown away by how smart my students are and how deep their understanding of English is. It's not that I imagined them to be dull---I'm just not used to working with such advanced students. It feels like teaching students anywhere; I forget that English isn't their first language. More importantly, the students are active and fun. They like discussing different things. They are warming up to me at very different rates (one of my classes has the atmosphere for an 8th grade dance before anyone is dancing), but I can feel it happen. I'm getting more comfortable too.
I'm trying to collect differences and similarities between the college life here and back home. Actually, comparing my own college experience at UW-Madison and HUST is not that strange, since they are both comparable sizes and well-known research/science schools. I also am subconsciously comparing my experience as a college student a decade ago to the current student's experience, which is bound to be different anywhere.
1. Octogenarians abound on campuses! I may have mentioned this but there are lovely older folks everywhere on campus! Someone finally explained to me that many of them are the parents of university teachers/professors; they live with them on campus to help out by taking care of the grandkids. Most of the time, you see them pushing a stroller or carrying a baby. It's absurdly cute.
2. Banners...everywhere! Red banners, blue banners, falling-down banners! Not really sure what they say besides a few characters here and there, but they always remind me I'm in a foreign place.
3. Obligatory military training for freshman: While Madison freshmen are perfecting their first keg stand, freshmen at HUST are marching and standing at command for up to 10 hours a day in the sun for the first month of school! Welcome to college!
4. 6pm campus-wide broadcasts: Every evening, a woman crawls into my ear and starts whispering sultry Chinese into my brain. Not sure what she's saying, but I like her voice. Sometimes I hear the word "Trump," and I shudder with what is probably being said about the US president. Here I am, walking home from class and enjoying the daily broadcast.
5. "Innocent" students: Students here seem innocent in comparison to freshmen at Madison. Most of them don't drink yet and some are dating for the first time (or not yet).
6. Lack of Choice in Classes: I mentioned this before, but all students here are in one set group of about 30 people who all share the same major; they stay with this same core class throughout all their classes in college. They don't have the chance to choose classes since their course load is already set.
7. Communication with teachers: I think I sent my teachers formal emails in college. Now, I am on a gigantic wechat messaging group with all my students, and this is a good example of what our communication looks like:
Me: Calmly sends Summary assignment.
student: Thank you!
student: BEATS UP HEARTS IN GRATITUDE
Me: "You are welcome" in chinese
Student: repeats "h"
Student: repeats "6"
student: deranged cartoon
It's basically just mass confusion and GIFS.
8. City surrounding campus: Mostly shopping malls and lots of cars. In Madison, it's mostly people earnestly selling free-range eggs and some head shops. Oh, and in the last 10 years, a bunch of luxury apartments for kids from LA.
9. No one drinks coffee. Tea all day. Sometimes milk tea. Students only go into coffee shops like starbucks to make artistic social media posts. Stark contrast to my college experience, where everyone was addicted by sophomore year.
1. Couples...everywhere! Never found the 'right' moment to take a picture of a couple on campus, but let me tell you...they are here! The preponderance of couples actually makes the campus 0.8% more dangerous for walking, since you could easily get clothes-lined by the hand-clasped pairs. Sometimes getting into the canteen feels like a game of red-rover...
3. The Canteens! I dunno, both Madison and HUST have canteens, but they are pretty wildly different. It's like comparing dumplings and microwaved sausages. Actually, that's exactly what it's like. Nonetheless, there are cafeterias, they are usually uncomfortably full, and you can easily overdose on sodium with one serving of vegetables.
2. Green space: Both schools do this well.
4. Cruel and unusual living situations for students that goes largely unnoticed by everyone else. You know, 7 women to a room; their only potable water is from their tears...etc etc
5. Concerning amounts of segregation between international and domestic students: Refer to previous blogposts about international student and teacher quarantines.
6. Access to Dairy queen!
Life is funny...in Madison, people order Chinese food (kung pao chicken!) to their dorm rooms. in China, students eat the same soft-serve blizzards that they do in the midwest. We are all connected through grossly inauthentic food posing as cultural cuisine.
7. The gender divide: My school is like 90% boy and my English majors are 97% female. Reminds me a lot of being an English major at Madison...
8. Weird snacks that only college students eat and that are possibly poisonous. I have no words (but who has words for spicy cheezits either?) but apparently HE does "I only eat peas if they taste like grilled meat and then I make this face."
9. Students are busy: Shuttling back and forth between the library, just like at Madison, backpacks slung over their shoulders. College campuses are always college campuses.
HUST is a beautiful place. I'm excited for those of you who will get to see it.
Like usual, I'll leave you with some inspiring photographs, this time some screenshots of the auto-translate feature for my social needs feed of 'Wechat,' where people post the usual stuff (inspirational quotes, food pictures, talking about how fat they are, vague and bleak statements like "I am nothing", etc). As you might imagine, the translations almost never make sense. They are delightful. One of the best parts of my day. Without further ado, I present you with some recent favorites:
1. "The happy life of fat house." We all know exactly what this means.
2. I'll let this one speak for itself.
Love you all!