I’m going to go on a bit of a rant today.  I just got out of an increasingly irritating class in which I spend the vast majority of the time listening to a tape of a man reciting Chinese vowel and consonant sounds, which I am then supposed to repeat.  The only reason my Chinese has progressed whatsoever since being here is on my own accord, attempting to converse with locals and other students, and asking the teachers questions.  I’ve now been in class for two and a half weeks and for some reason the teachers are still convinced that I have an inability to understand simple one syllable sounds and their corresponding sounds.  I explained to them that it’s very easy for me to look at a list of syllables such as “Bu, bo, bi, biu, biou” and distinguish the difference between each one, as well as be able to speak the tones clearly, but my problem is putting it all together to make a cohesive sentence.  There have been no assignments on putting it all together, and the extent of the actual conversation we have in class consists of reading a prepared set of dialogue, usually consisting of words that I already knew before coming to China this time around.  Perhaps they think we’re stupid, or perhaps straying from the original plan just puts fear in their hearts, but in any case if a change does not occur soon, I’m likely to pack my bags and head out into the world where I can learn some practical language skills.

The only class in which I find any value is the Chinese characters class, but I still only have one two hour block a week, and in the meantime every time the teacher teaches us a new word she writes it on the board in characters, usually scribbled quickly in bad handwriting.  I’m doing my best to tell the teachers where I need improvement, but because of social traditions here they usually nod and smile and pretend to acknowledge my distress, but continue teaching in the way they originally planned.

I can’t help but place some of the blame on the international program at my school in the United States.  I was thrilled to find out that they had started an exchange program with Liaocheng University, but the more I found out about the school the more I was turned off.  The program here is just getting off its feet and they are used to catering to Korean students as opposed to English speaking students.  When I tried to find out about other Chinese schools in other parts of China because I felt as though the education I got here would not be up to par, I was told that it would be very hard to transfer my credits from a school that Warren Wilson did not have a relationship with because there was no way of checking the validity of said school.  Discouraged, I agreed to attend Liaocheng University in the hopes that it would all work out.  Had I gone to a school in Shanghai, Beijing, or even Kunming, where many English speaking foreigners live, I believe my classes would have been far more beneficial.

So I guess at this point it’s just going to be up to me to make the most of my education here.  I’m tempted to just start skipping my Chinese listening class and instead going out to find the plethora of locals that want to converse with me.  This way I can learn to understand practical Mandarin, as well as work on my own grammar and pronunciation.  As for my characters class, I will continue to badger the dean of the international school here to give me more in the hopes that eventually they will get the point, and we can move beyond the nods and the dumb smiles.

On a happier note, my roommates took me and a few friends out to a Korean restaurant last night.  The food was rich, spicy, and absolutely delicious.  My favorite was a bowl of rice, vegetables, a little bit of beef, and a raw egg that cooked on top of the steaming rice.  While I love to eat real Chinese food (Americanized Chinese food is not the real thing), I’m considering absconding to Seoul if my classes don’t improve, just so I can eat all the wonderful food.  After dinner my Chinese friend Nathan took us to Dong Chang Lake, which is nice during the day, but magical at night.  The Chinese have a thing for neon lights, and all along the lake were multi-colored Hutongs, the pagoda style, castle like buildings that Westerners tend to associate with ancient Chinese kingdoms, all lit up in brilliant shades of green, orange, and red.  Unfortunately I did not have my camera with me, a grave mistake, but I plan to return to take some pictures.  In the meantime here’s a collection of photos of entrances to homes I took while wandering around the suburbs of Liaocheng.