We have lessons every day here so it’s a bit like being back in school except CHINA. Three hours of Mandarin every morning, a break for lunch, then a couple more hours doing something else – either a “cultural activity” like calligraphy (awesome), or a uni-style lecture on our chosen topic, mine being law (boring).
Lectures on the ins and outs of the legislation of patents in China aside, pretty much everything here amazes and/or interests me. My expectations have more than been lived up to: even just spending time on the university campus provides new sources of entertainment every day – the campus is more like a small village than a university residence. Quite a lot of the time I forget this is real life: it’s hard not to think you’re dreaming when you’re walking to breakfast and you see a group of elderly Chinese people calmly practicing Tai Chi, a guy recreating the spangly soundtrack to Mulan (or similar) on an erhu, or the odd person patting trees.*
(*yes this does actually happen)
Everything on the campus is so peaceful; it’s not the concrete monstrosity that one might expect based on the stereotype of Chinese cities.There are trees and gardens everywhere, hundreds of benches dotted about in different places, the place is filled with greenery. Even just five days in we’ve all been talking about how much more relaxed things are here than back in the UK; I feel like I’ve like, found my inner peace in this place… Or something.
Each of the people on the program has been assigned a Chinese “buddy” who studies at the university, and it’s been so interesting to talk to them about their lives – my particular favourite topic of conversation so far has been the stories behind their chosen English name. My buddy, Carrie, chose hers because of the lead character in Sex and the City (she watches more American TV than I do!), and there’s a guy who calls himself Jimmy who got his from a line in a James Blunt song. Brilliant. It just makes you wonder what would happen if we all got to choose our names…
We’ve been out a couple of times so far (before the tiredness kicked in – we’re not used to spending 5 hours a day in the classroom any more, OK?!), once to an ‘English’ bar which had strange dancing girls that appeared after about 10 o clock, and once to a place called KTV. If there was one thing I wish I could bring back to England, it would have to be KTV. Essentially it was a karaoke bar, with different rooms containing a stage, a screen, and a retro-style microphone, and drinks (as everything is) were super cheap from the shop inside. It was just a great, great night: they had loads of old British music (and here ‘old’ encompasses anything from the Beatles to classic Avril Lavigne), and all the Chinese volunteers were getting right into it; a personal highlight was Jimmy’s rendition of the Coldplay classic, Yellow.
That being said, this evening has possibly even exceeded that one in terms of general enjoyment. I tagged along on a trip to see Daming Lake, and (joy of joys!) we got sidetracked into wandering down and eating at a street food place. If any of you know how much I love street food, this was my heaven: an entire STREET dedicated to it, in all it’s many wonderful incarnations. Definitely the best dinner I’ve had all trip, and I am certainly going back. We also popped into a Buddhist temple that was tucked away to the side of the street, which was amazing (I love temples almost as much as I love street food) before eventually heading to the lake we had originally planned to see a good two hours previously.
I thought the lake was amazing, set in a park off the main roads, and all lit up in the dark (bummer for picture-taking, but great for real life). But the highlight for me was definitely the impromptu dance sessions that we infiltrated, which were going on all over the place. From what I understand it’s supposed to be an activity reserved for the older generation, but anyway we had a jolly old time joining in trying to copy the moves. The best way I can think to describe it is as being sort of like Zumba in slow motion, but with Chinese music as the soundtrack. Anyway, it was great fun, and I would definitely go again, especially because in the dark people aren’t as inclined to stare at us seeing as they can’t actually see us.
All in all, though it might be hyperbolic to say I’m enjoying every second of this experience, I would still stick to a high reported enjoyment factor: maybe I’ll go with a slightly more modest every other second. It’s genuinely such a great place, great people, great trip. Who says my gap year’s finished anyway?