The beginning of the end of my semester here at CET
We have a language practicum almost every Wednesday – basically an activity that helps/forces us to use our Chinese (interviewing elderly people about their life at a park was one of these activities). Last Friday, as a sort of final practicum “test”, we all went to the Pugongying Middle School to give short presentations in Chinese, answer some questions, and just hang out with the kids.
We were told it’s possible we were the first foreigners these kids have ever interacted with, and after seeing their reactions when we rolled up in the buses, I believe it. Most of the school was standing out in the courtyard waving and applauding while we walked off the bus, and the applause continued for a good 3 minutes after we finally made it to their classrooms. I’m not going to lie, it was legitimately a little intimidating.
This middle school is whats known as a 打工子弟学校 dǎgōng zǐdì xuéxiào or “migrant children school”. The students come from families who have immigrated to Beijing, usually in search of better work. However in Beijing, in order to be able to go to Beijing’s schools or buy housing, you have to have a 户口 hùkǒu, essentially a residence permit. Because, among it’s many other problems Beijing is overcrowded, getting one of these hukous is nearly impossible. So kids are sent to schools like the one we went to, where the buildings are basically giant tin sheds, heating isn’t guaranteed, and the quality of education they receive is far below that of normal schools in Beijing.
My presentation topic was 美国的快餐文化 Měiguó de kuàicān wénhuà a.k.a American fast-food culture. It wasn’t the smoothest speech I’ve ever given, but the kids were too entertained by pictures of Don Gorske (the guy who has eaten over 25,000 Big Macs) and U.S. obesity statistics to care about my mistakes.
Afterwords, we were allowed to speak English in order to help them do their work or just to chat. I heard in the past, a lot of students want to learn bad English words (just as I’m learning bad Chinese words), but my group of kids were too polite. We were actually having so many communication problems using English that for the first time in my life, I actually found it easier to speak Chinese. Not just a few sentences, I mean an entire conversation covering all sorts of topics. Again, my Chinese is still at the level of a 3rd grader, but i felt pretty good at that point.
Before we left, we were told we should bring cameras to take pictures with the kids. The first reason is that, from what I can see, Chinese people have an unhealthy obsession with taking pictures. The second is most of those kids obviously can’t afford their own camera, so after taking pictures we could email them back to the teachers to give out to the kids. It was definitely one of the better experiences I’ve had this semester, and although it’s really out of the way, I’d like to make it back to that school every now and then.
I have yet to eat fast food in China – seriously – so seeing as my presentation topic was fast food, my friends and I figured it would be a good idea to hit up Pizza Hut in China so I could make some comparisons. I assume a lot of people don’t know this, but fast-food in China is nothing like it is in the U.S. The favorite fast-food restaurant of China is actually KFC 肯德基 Kěndéjī (there’s one on every street corner…almost), you can get McDonald’s delivered 24 hours a day by middle-aged men riding red scooters, and Pizza Hut is high class.
In fact, when we got to Pizza Hut, we had to wait ten minutes. I haven’t had to wait at a Pizza Hut since I was 11, so it had to be good. When we were seated, we opened the menu and were greeted by the drink page which offered bottles of red wine, beer, milkshakes, iced coffee, the twin berry romance, and sour plum juice.
Appetizers include beef croquette with cheese and asparagus, herb encrusted shrimp, and, what we ordered, gratin mashed potatoes with bacon and cheese. If you’re not feeling pizza, you can always order a sirloin steak or Bavarian style pork knuckle. If you do want pizza, just know they don’t use marinara. It’s actually a layer of cheese sauce covered with more melted cheese, and it’s really good.
The inside of the restaurant was pretty fancy too, which is funny because at your above average Chinese restaurant, people are yelling and smoking, service is slow, and there’s a good chance a kid is “discretely” urinating in a dark corner. Taking a girl to Pizza Hut is actually considered an acceptable date here, which I’m obviously a fan of. It’s a little bit more expensive than everyday restaurants, but if the Santa hat-wearing-waitresses are willing to take there picture with me, I’m willing to pay the extra cash.
As far as the study abroad plan goes, I’ll be staying in Beijing to continue studying Chinese, at least for the next semester. I’ve applied to the Chinese language program at Beijing University and will hear back from them before the end of the month. While my goal is to continue studying abroad, whether or not I get into Beijing University, I’m staying here in China which means I now need to find a place to live and a part-time job.
Because I’ve made zero progress on both of those things, and because in 14-ish days I will technically no longer have a place to live, I’ve decided not to come home for Christmas so that I can get my life settled over here. Unless I contract a serious disease which would require me to head back to the States early, I plan on making it back sometime in the beginning of July.
And lastly, I’ve been pretty bad at keeping in contact with everyone, friends and family alike, so after December 19th, I’m going to make every effort possible to catch up with everyone back home.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!