Been Awhile…


This post was originally published in 2008
It may contain stale & outdated information. Or it may have grown more awesome with age, like the author.

Haven’t written for awhile, I’ve been away at a course. The course was at Shanghai University, and was helpful. It was a Chinese course, and ran for two weeks. Most of the material I had covered before, but as we used a different text book, each day was filled with about 15 new words for me to attempt to memorize. Of course there were some grammar points that I had not come across before, and I learned yet another way to say “but” – “不过”. Now I know about 4 ways to say “but”. This type of thing is one of the hardest aspects (I find) of learning a language. One learns enough to have a short conversation quickly – so long as the conversation partner uses only the variations that one has learned. Even for a hard-working student such as myself swiftly learns that language “in the field” is a different beast to language in the classroom. I know how to say a lot of things, but I can understand far, far less. Like English, Chinese has 2~5 different words that mean essentially the same thing. Technically they’re different words, but for a novice the difference between “popular” “famous” “acclaimed” “infamous” “renowned” is not large. This means that I often have to get people (Yvonne’s parents, they’re the only people I try to have actual conversations with) to repeat themselves using variations of the same words, as I’ll often know what they’re talking about, I just won’t know it because they’re using words I am not familiar with.

Two days before classes had begun, Yvonne and I went to the dorm and paid my fees. They had neglected to mention that bond was required, luckily we’d learned from the last week of payment trials and had brought an amount of money far in excess of whatever extras we imagined they’d tack on. Bond was 800å…ƒ, and we got it back afterwards. When payment was finally over, we went up to my room, where I was doomed to live for the duration of the course.

Contrary to my expectations, the room was quite nice. I’d give it a 2.5 star rating. It consisted of a bedroom/office with a desk, a bed, a TV, a chest of drawers a cupboard and a water heater thing and an ensuite. There was also an air conditioning unit, which was welcome. I immediately set the unit to its highest setting, 32°C, where it stayed until Yvonne found out and told me off. When I had unpacked my laptop, and thrown the rest of my baggage into a corner, I announced that I had settled in, and that we should find a supermarket. The closest was just across the road from the nearest university gate, and from it we bought various snacks and some water. The water in my room tasted like dirt and had a yellow-brown tint. I didn’t drink the water in the room.

The area surrounding the supermarket was filled with small restaurants and other student orientated stores, none of which interested me. On our way back to the room we had dinner, at LEM. LEM is short for 乐而美 – lè’èrmÄ›i, and is a KFC clone. I ordered a student meal, I forget what Yvonne ordered. The food was OK, good enough for me to return a number of times throughout my stay at the university. After eating I accompanied Yvonne to the bus stop, then played Battle of Wesnoth alone in my room. Battle of Wesnoth is a turn-based strategy game. It is free, and runs on Mac, Windows or Linux. Though it is free, the quality is still high, and is a very enjoyable game. After completing some of the campaigns, which teach you the basics of the game, I’d recommend moving on to multiplayer.

I didn’t have the internet in my room however, so I just played single player. To use the internet on one’s own computer, one is required to install some software, which is Windows XP or Vista only. There were three computers in a room on the first floor for communal use though, which meant I was able to check emails.

The next day I had to get up at 8 AM to pay my fees and collect my text book. This all went relatively smoothly. At one point, after successfully paying my fees, I was told to sit on the ground floor and wait for the rest of the foreign students, which I did. I had been sitting for about 30 minutes when a different person came into the room and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was waiting for the other students, and he gestured that I should follow him. We went to the room I was originally in, and I was told to sit in a different chair. After waiting there for about 20 minutes, we (some other students had arrived by then) were taken to a small room where our Chinese competence was assessed. I was put into the B class, which is better than the A+ class. After this we were given our class schedules, and told that we were finished for the day.

I went back to my room and played Battle of Wesnoth, then watched a movie.

The next day we had our first class. I made sure I arrive just on time, so I wouldn’t have to sit with a bunch of people I don’t know and exchange small talk. The demographics of the class were: 8 Germans (one male), 4 Japanese (two male) 1 Korean (male) and myself (New Zealand). Note: some of my classmates were not present for the photo.

The teacher spoke mostly Chinese, and we covered a chapter each lesson. There was little homework, so at night I either watched documentaries/movies or played Battle for Wesnoth.

The course was fun, and helpful.

Later I’ll write about how I got food poisoning from Japanese food, my new dictionary, and an igloo.

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