Recent Goings-on

Let’s play catch-up since I last wrote, shall we? What have I been up to?

Hong Kong and Macao. Well, so Roberta came and we went to Hong Kong. It was pleasant. Hah, no, this deserves a separate entry. Let’s skip it for now.

Roberta in Chongqing. After meeting mother in HK, we headed back to glorious Chongqing for a few more days. Ro got lucky—it was great weather (comparatively), I had good classes for her to visit, and she never got too sick. But, as we kept discussing, there’s a big difference between visiting for a few days and living in a place. For me and most of my friends, the beginning of the end in terms of disillusionment with China didn’t happen until something like three months in. So all ye who come to visit me, be warned—you will probably like China when you visit. It will be interesting and exotic. But it will not be the equivalent of my experience or perceptions, and I will reserve the right to undermine your optimism. Fun fun fun!

In any case, it was lovely to have her see the things I’ve been talking about for months (when I’m on the phone with you as I’m walking to class, this is where I’m doing it! And this is where I buy my pineapple on a stick! And this is my student with the twisted relationships that I’ve told you about!). During her visit I taught seven classes and had a women’s group meeting, and in most of them I let my students open by asking her whatever burning questions they wanted.

One question that came up three or four times: “If Marissa fell in love with a Chinese boy and decided to stay in China, what would you do?” Then, like a routine:

Roberta: Well, we’d be sad that she’d be so far away but she’s an adult, so we’d support her making her own choices….

Marissa: …But that will never happen.

Sports day. On Sunday night, the last night of Ro’s visit, I got word that, surprise surprise, there would be no classes that Thursday or Friday for Sports Meeting. Sports Meeting seems to be an annual event at most universities, in which classes are canceled for students to take part in various track and field or other competitions. This is also precluded by a large opening ceremony, in which troupes of vast numbers of students (mainly freshmen) spend weeks preparing rigorously syncopated dances. In fact, all last month I would see these groups of students on the athletic fields, slowly mincing through these dances under the tutelage of some fey instructor barking into a microphone—but it wasn’t until finding out about sports meeting that this all made sense.

On the day of sports meeting itself, I elected to linger over my sleep rather than rush to the opening ceremony, so I was just in time to see the swaths of performers heading home in their gold-lame-on-white tennis outfits. In the stadium itself was a rather low-key rugby match, but surrounding it was more hullabaloo—a handful of people in rented cartoon character costumes were a main event, with the university kids lining up to take photos with them. Meanwhile, recreational jumprope seemed to be an attraction for all the non-serious sports positions. There were dozens of jumprope games going on all around the periphery of the stadium, led not just by the college kids but by what looked like middle-aged teachers, staff, and workmen. I watched the festivities for a few minutes and then got on with enjoying my last-minute six-day weekend hanging out with friends (what with no classes on Mondays or Tuesdays anyway).

Women’s group. My women’s club has been going well—after a slightly-overwhelming 35 attendants at my first meeting, it’s whittled itself down to a recurring core of more like 18-20. I set a schedule of topics and let girls sign up for which day they wanted to help lead discussion on. My plan was to have the girls come up with questions and help direct the proceedings, and to do as much or as little as they wanted. Discussion Captain 1 played a very minimal role on “Images of women in the media” day. But the second set of captains, I found out, had prepared a plan for basically the whole meeting for “health and nutrition” day. I let them do their thing….

…And was faced with the challenge of—how much was it worthwhile to just let them lead as they saw fit, versus how much I should intercede to correct bad or strange info. Because, of course, they were using Chinese health sources and folk wisdom as the basis of their presentation. Thus, the leaders instructed the group on such tips as:

  • Apples are good for your memory, and bananas for confidence.
  • If you drink milk every day you will become whiter.
  • Don’t eat apples before breakfast, and you must wait 30 minutes after any meal to eat fruit.
  • Brush your tongue to make your tastebuds more sensitive.
  • Playing basketball as a kid is good for your future height potential.
  • You must keep your phone at least one meter from your bed at night to avoid radiation.
  • Don’t have milk together with chocolate—it’s bad for your digestion.

Sigh. I mostly let this go and only cut in here and there to supplement rather than outright correct, since they’re going to believe what they’re going to believe. Next time I’d set it up differently. But in any case, this week we’re talking about dating and healthy relationships, and then next week is the big big Sex Day. Surprise surprise, no one signed up to lead discussion that day.

Classes. My British Literature class has finally finished Dorian Gray, and I’m “looking forward” to reading to their essay test on it this week. Next we’ll be doing a collection of shorter works to finish off the term—a little Conrad and Kipling for colonialism, Daisy Miller (yes, I guess it’s disputable whether we count Henry James as British or American, but whatever), World War I poetry, and a touch of Dubliners at the end to make some final use of their obnoxious anthology. This class has definitely been the most work, but also the most interesting to prepare and teach. Hmm, what does that show you about my teaching interests.

In my oral English majors’ classes, we’ve been covering argument and argumentative speeches, which will lead into debate and finally storytelling. Doing this and that in my Friday classes of double-majors (they don’t care much and I don’t care much: it’s a perfect combination!) Eight more weeks of classes total, it should be.

I’m also helping my Chongqing host out with an English enrichment program she runs for kids. Looks like I’m going to be meeting with a group of 10- to 12-year-olds for the next few weeks, which should be a whole other kind of challenge.

Upcoming plans

This coming weekend is Labor Day, which probably means Monday and Tuesday off (not that they’ve informed us of this or anything) and which is also the time of the annual Chengdu music festival (Chinese and foreign bands, pop, rock, etc). And why yes, I will be attending my first-ever weekend-long music festival in China. The next month will feature perhaps a couple of other weekend visits to friends that I can look forward to, and I’m also doing more thinking lately about long-term travel plans. I just got my definitive schedule of summer PC work, so I can start making definitive summer travel plans with my (fingers-crossed) visitors! Some combination of Shanghai, Beijing, Guilin/Yangshuo, and Yunnan are on the docket for June and July before I head home, and I’m counting down!

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