Wo zai Sichuan daxue xuexi Hanyu
Sichuan Daxue(四川大学, or four river big study, if translated literally, but that is not what it means-it is where I am. Sichuan University-China. I am sitting here in my dorm room having completed my Chinese homework and my last history paper of the semester bracing myself to buckle down on my Chinese language class so that I will be able to do well on the finals the week of January 15th. I will be here in China until the end of July studying its history and language hoping that through my study I may be able to participate in bridging the gap between the East and the West.
I am in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, which is in the interior of China. I am studying historiography, the way that history is told, as well as studying the China’s last two hundred years. When I first came here I felt like an imperialist. They sent us on a tour of all the nicest touristy restaurants with mandatory pearl, jade, and ceramic jar shops. We went to the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors, the Forbidden City, Tianamen Square and every meal we were given so much food that there were plates and plates left over. The childhood admonishment of “there are starving children in China-eat your food” became a numb thorn in my side. We attended several dinner theaters that were very much appeals to Western Orientalism. When they finally brought us from our pleasure cruise to our dorms, they showed us our rooms. With two to a room, they are equipped with western private bathrooms, Japanese-made heating and cooling systems, a kitchen, a living space, and a bedroom, which is in stark contrast to the Chinese student dorms. The Chinese have 8 people to a single bunkroom, no heating or cooling, and public bathrooms. In a movement of conviction I asked if I could move into the Chinese student dorm, but the overseas student office refused.
Here I have done my best to make use of my faculties to study and walk the line between contentment and apathy. I think that learning how to listen is something that has been one of the most difficult things here. Having the opportunity to learn from the Chinese students has brought both challenge and fulfillment in learning how to listen. I can not speak without knowing what is being said, but even once I know that there are still challenges. Among those challenges are understanding why so many of the Chinese love Lady Gaga, Kenny G, the TV show Friends, and the song “Country Roads”. There is plenty of time to learn that here though, because it is the cultural norm here to go out to eat in groups to talk. (and the food is relatively cheap)
At Hot Pot, one of Sichuan’s specialties (think spicy and larger scale fondue) you can sit and talk as you wait for the meat and vegetables to cook and soak up the Sichuan specialty hua jiao, (aka numbing spice). Many times students want to know about American history, politics or normal likes or dislikes, and I admit what little I know about those things. Alas, I often come to a point in the conversation where the sweat is dripping from my eyes, (from the spice) and knowing the power of language and danger of it being too vague I return; set my nose to the grindstone once again, as I attempt to unseat myself from the American monolingual throne.