After seeing chickens on the beach this morning and fully accepting that nothing I would see during my time in China would ever catch me ON guard for it, Keeli and I met up with Camilla and Christina for breakfast. This morning marked the first time I purposefully ate something I was unfamiliar with- a sticky bun and something I can only call ‘strawberry flavored drink.’ Chinese cuisine will be trial and error until I get used to a few staples and figure out what me/my stomach can handle. Cuz y’all need to know that, I’m sure.
Echo picked us up at 9:45 and herded us to the Overseas Education College, where the Vice Dean, Professor Yue (the UNC professor in charge of the UNC Xiamen Program), and our future teachers greeted us with hellos, official tee shirts, and exuberant introductions to the program. Professor Yue introduced us to our teachers- Professor Hou for the 1st level, Professor Hu for the 2nd level, and Professor Guo for Keeli and I. Professor Guo, or ‘Eric,’ is a friend of Echo’s who is also in Xiamen University’s graduate school, studying Journalism. We had a good conversation in Chinese, most of which I likely followed, discussing the topics I’m interested in covering during the three weeks we’d have together. These weeks will be succeeded by Keeli’s and my inclusion in regular semester courses, which start later than UNC’s courses. After expressing my interest in various areas of Chinese knowledge like Feng Shui, the relationship between Chinese people and their natural environment, and women in Chinese society, Eric implicitly suggested I not get ahead of myself and told us he was planning on teaching us how to speak correctly and read newspapers, or at least one of the two. He has experience teaching TV broadcasters how to ‘pronounce from their diaphrams,’ so we’re in good hands. My problem with Chinese is that I’m good at memorizing the shapes and meanings of characters, but struggle to remember the associated tones and pronunciation of words I know- essentially, when I read and write Chinese characters, in my head I’m hearing English. Eric told me he could fix that, and I crossed my fingers.
After the ‘introductory ceremony,’ I headed over to Furong Canting (The Lotus Dining Hall) with Alex, Ian, and Kara. This lunch marked the first time I ordered purposefully from the cafeteria with no snags, asking questions and receiving a nonstandard riceless meal because there is such a thing as too much rice. Lunch is obviously followed by more refreshments, today being fruit tea from the dorm café. Alex and I split a pot, and I opened my computer to find that it had bugs. Live bugs. First world or third world problems?
A bit stir-crazy, I left to go practice some characters I’d learned during my most recent semesters of Chinese outside on the dorm deck. I lasted about three characters worth of review and a few minutes of helping English speakers find the beach and returned inside for a much necessary roomie nap with Keeli. We woke up in time for dinner, because naturally all we do here is sleep, walk, and eat. The ceremonial meal with our teachers took place in a private room with tables strewn with chopsticks and formal drinks like Sprite and Coca Cola. I got to ask questions of the Vice Dean, Professor Yue, Eric, and our future sociology professor about animals and pets in China and radicals (components of characters), learned words for lotus root, seed, and flower, and ate and drank a bunch of unusual stuff like sea cucumber (most definitely NOT a vegetable) and regular Coca Cola, which I hadn’t had in years- it’s not just Chinese food that’s relatively new to me. I was proud when Professor Yue commented on how good my questions were, but I don’t want him to have that high expectations for me- he doesn’t realize just how much work he’s going to have to put in to correct my tones.
After dinner, we trooped over to the local Buddhist temple with Professor Yue as our guide. I was excited to exercise my new knowledge about lotus flowers- lotuses are sacred, and temples have their own MAGNIFICENT lotus fields. Additionally, as I had expressed earlier my desire for a new Chinese name to Eric (currently, it’s 漢娜, phonetically ‘Han Na,’ which means ‘special woman of the Han people’ or something along those lines), he told me with a smirk that he was renaming me 很辣, phonetically ‘Hen La,’meaning ‘Very Hot/Spicy.’ After laughing to himself a while, he said it also meant ‘Sexy.’ Echo had a word with him.
Keeli, Sarah, Daniel and I then went to the superstore again to get school supplies, and went home to play cards and such. I attempted to go read and get free WiFi outside the café, but was ambushed by the security guard on my way out of the elevator. Young and earnest, he wanted despe rately to discuss the book I was holding. We held a half hour conversation in Chinese, and from what I (think I) understood, he’s not a fan of the government. In exchange for a lecture on the corruption in local Chinese governments that don’t follow the ‘better’ national government codes, I taught him the English words ‘simony’ and ‘nepotism’ and headed off to read/go online. Five minutes later, I ended up playing cards and continuing a conversation a few of us had started at dinner about whether or not pandas have pouches. I learned that while I’m a fan of Egyptian Ratscrew, I’ve been misguided in my panda-oriented knowledge.