Thursday, July 19, 2007

Some Thoughts on Homestay

Here might be something of use for future fellows who might want to opt for the homestay option at DSIC:

What is the main purpose of staying in a traditional, Chinese home rather than the international hotel? Of course, it is to have more interaction with the natives and to observe a completely different culture.

However, this is not always guaranteed. Right now, I live around 35 minutes walking or 15 minutes biking from the school. There are no direct bus routes, so you would have to make several connections to get to class. As you can imagine, going to and from home is not that convenient.

In the morning, I wake up early and go over the previous night's homework and vocabulary. Then, I say my goodbyes to the host family. I stay at the school for most of the day (until 10ish) because everything and everybody is there. With one-on-ones (一对一) to do and language partners (语伴) to meet, I don't really have time to go home during the day. Plus, teachers' office hours are at night from 7PM-9PM. By the time I do get home, it is quite late, and all I can do is say my greetings to the family before they go to bed and I start my homework. As you can tell, my interaction with the family is not exactly where I want it to be.

I've talked to other students who are living outside the hotel. The ones whose houses are only a five minute walk away seem very happy. Once you get further than 10 or 15 minutes, it seems that the advantages cancel out the disadvantages to a point that the student is indifferent to the two options. Once you get even further than 15 minutes, the prominent attitude is slightly negative. Thus, it seems like distance from the school has an enormous impact of convenience and the amount of interaction you have with your hosts.

Some of it is definitely my fault. For example, I don't eat very often with the host family. Also, if I tried much harder, I feel like I could definitely make it home earlier some nights.

Am I going to stick with the host family option? With three weeks left in the program, I think so. However, if I had to choose again, I don't think I would make the same choice.

Friday, July 13, 2007

报告!(bao4 gao4 = report)

I think one of the interesting and unique things about this summer program is that, once a week, we are required to mingle with the natives and discussed with them a topic relevant to what we are currently studying in class. We usually bring up the topic, try to give them an overview, and then listen to their views/experiences before sharing ours.

In the first week, we discussed how the educational system in China is quite different from that of the States. Additionally, Chinese parents are so much more demanding than the average American parent. To find out more,I went to the most well-knowned high school in Beijing: School 101. That place is huuuuuge! I felt like I was on a middle-sized college campus, no lie! Very pretty as well. Anyways, I met a high schooler who was willing to share his life stories with me. Apparently, he has to start studying right after school. The only break between that and his 11:30 bedtime was a dinner at 7. Intense. I definitely would not be able to survive that. I really admire the student for his ability to keep up the hard work and to know so clearly what he wants to do when he graduates (not a doctor nor a lawyer, but an ambassador to the States). I wish I did...

In the second week, we talked to regular Beijing people, whether in the streets or in the markets and in the third week, we were to interview Capital Normal University students. We discussed similar topics for both. Most of them believed that the States stick their hand in too many world affairs. But, I think everyone agreed that the government in the States is better because of its transparency.

This week, we went to the Capital Museum just to get a feel for Chinese history. I really enjoyed the displays of traditional weddings in the old times. The bride is lifted up on a sedan chair and taken to the groom in a "Bride's Procession." This procession is filled with loud gongs, drums, other musical instruments, and fire crackers. Of course, there are a whole lot of other important events that take place both before and after this procession. All together, they make for a very interesting wedding.

Arriving at the museum

A drummer leading the bride's procession

Munchies for bride to promote fertility.

A pair of shoes for some lucky child.

A clay model of how the Chinese use to make their famous porcelain china.

Anyways, tonight, I am going to Xi'an, home of the Terracotta Warriors! Update you when I get back!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Tip-Toeing On the Banana Leaf

So, I must blog about the restaurant I just went to last night: Banana Leaf!

What was the special occasion? Tao's birthday! He is Thai, so of course, we went to a Thai restaurant.

After getting on a hot bus and getting stuck in a traffic jam (like always), we finally made it to our destination of Zhong Guan Cun. Banana Leaf appeared to be like any other normal Thai restaurant, but after ordering and chatting for a while, a group of Filipinos (what?! Filipinos working at a Thai restaurant in China?!) swamped our table with music and dance!

First, since it was Tao's birthday, they sang a upbeat rendition of the Happy Birthday song in both English and Chinese. Then, they sang Thai songs, Chinese songs, and American songs. We all danced, drank, and had a merry merry time!

Tao dancing with Dulce

Group shot with the Filipinos!

In other news, I got a bike to ride to campus today. Beijing traffic, once again, is ridiculous! I think if I suffer any injuries this summer, it'll be from riding the bike. Plus, the bike doesn't have any brakes... I forgot about that when I decided to ride down these steps today. The result? I almost went over the railing and into the freeway. Yay.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Scaling THE Wall

After four days of classes, we took a overnight trip to the one and only Great Wall!

We spent the night next to the Simatai section. The place where we stayed was beautiful and serene - right next to a lake with the outlines of the Great Wall in the background. At 2:00AM, we started our trek. Our goal was to make it to the very top in time for the sunrise, which would have been gorgeous.

Going up the wall is hard enough in the day. Going up when it is pitchdark was so much worse! Guided by the light from our handy dandy cellphones, we were tripping all over the place. Needless to say, our speed was slowed to a crawl. Plus, we failed to achieve our goal in that we did not make it to the top before daylight. Plus, the fog was too dense anyways to see the sunrise.

Anyways, in the Simatai section of the Wall, everything after the 11th tower (12th? I lost count) is forbidden. "Dangerous climbing." Of couse, we did it anyways. It was probably the worst and best decision of my life. When they warned that it was dangerous, they were not kidding. Most of the path was less than a yard wide. Past that, well, it's straight down for a thousand feet. Not much room for error, eh? Also, we had to climb up and down towers that did not have any steps or ladders. The most difficult and scariest challenge was at the very end, of course. It was basically a vertical, 90 degrees climb up to the last tower. Once you're at the top, however, the view is incredible! Definitely worth the trouble and fear, in my humble opinion.

View at the beginning of the climb

Crossing into the unknown... dun dun dun!

Cliff side... don't fall!

Ruins, hundreds of years old

Trekking along, you can see the peak in the middle of the picture

The WALL - To climb or not to climb?

To climb! Of course!

After getting back from the Great Wall and getting a day of rest, I had to move out to my host family's home. I had some reservations about this, but I think it is going to work out really well. First of all, my family is extremely nice! I have a 'mom' (Zuo Mama) and a younger 'sister' (Xin Xin) right now. Zuo Mama does research on radars, and Xin Xin is some kind of karate champion in Beijing! Xin Xin is also trying to go to an American university at the moment. Hopefully, her application for a student visa will be successful.

I have my own room that is pretty big along with a queensize bed. There is no mattress on the bed, so I am sleeping on wood and some blankets. It's not too bad though. I'm more worried about accessing the internet. They pay by the minute. Plus, they are using dail up and windows... 98. Windows NINETY-EIGHT! I haven't seen that in ages! However, sometimes, I get a signal from a wireless server and I can use that to access the net. It comes and goes, and the signal is quite weak. However, it is still much easier than using their computer, which requires a lot of passwords and codes...

Anyways, the best news about the host family is that my mom is a good cook! That is important for me... hehe.

Well, it is really late and homework calls. Have a good night! (Day, in the States, I suppose)