I came to class on Wednesday of last week and ran into Li Loashi, who is essentially my advisor here in China, despite the fact that he does very little advising.  Other than my classes and a handful of other activities I’m pretty much left to fend for myself.  If there is something I need to attend, the teachers usually like to inform me the day of, if not the hour of.  The fact that Li’s English is about as good as my Mandarin doesn’t help the situation.  He can usually get across where and when I need to be, and I’m rarely provided more information than that.  On this day, Li informed that the foreign students would be participating in a so-called “Sports Meeting” the next day, and I had to be at the at the South Gate of the West Campus at 7:20 am.  Assuming this was just some sort of pep rally, I continued on my way to class satisfied, until I asked my teacher just how long this “sports meeting” would last, and she told me it would go on for three days.  Just what kind of pep rally was this?

William, an English speaking student from Ghana, then told me that the night before Li had called him and asked him to be the mascot.  I couldn’t help but find this downright hilarious, because William is literally one of three black people living in Liaocheng, and in no way could possibly represent the student body.

The next day I woke up with the haze still low in the sky and made my way over the South Gate with my roommates, where we met the school’s small delegation of foreign language teachers, four Americans, two Swedish women, and five Korean teachers.  The campus sizzled with excitement, as everywhere we looked cheery-eyed students were making their to the sports stadium, stopping only to peer at the funny looking assemblage of foreigners, all of whom seemed to know more about what was going on than I did.

Our Mascot

William showed up and assumed the position of our “mascot” by carrying a flag that said in both Chinese and English “School of International Students.”  With William as our leader we made our way to the stadium, where the entire student body waited for the proceedings to begin.  We huddled in a group while brigades of athletes and ROTC students made their way into the stadium, all wearing matching outfits and marching in perfect formation, again, only breaking concentration to giggle at our appearance and shout a quick, shy, hullo! From outside the stadium I could see that the stands were packed, people stacked three deep around the outer wall peered inward.  As each group entered the stadium the crowd would let a great roar that shook the ground.

A little intimidating no? And these are just college students.

When it was finally our turn we trudged into the stadium at what must have looked like a pathetic attempt at single file lines.  We followed the group of ROTC students ahead of us around the track of the stadium, and by the time we reached the stands our formation had dissolved into a befuddled mass of bewildered foreigners.  William attracted the most attention, and I could see people pointing and covering their mouths at his existence, as if he were some sort of Disney character come to life and was attending school in China.

Kan ichia! Laowai!

We listened to a few speeches by the head of the school and walked off the field so that the performances could begin.  What followed was a true spectacle, Kung Fu demonstrations, dance routines, ball room dancers, and even cheerleaders.  It was perhaps the closest thing I will ever experience to participating in the Olympics, save the lighting of the torch.

I was pretty shocked when this bunch came running on to the field. It goes to show just how much American culture has an effect on the rest of the world.

Three days of events followed.  I was encouraged to enter in the shot put competition, and ended up regretting my decision not to.  All in all though I enjoyed playing my part as a spectator, a well as the spectated at the opening ceremonies.