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Archive for September, 2009

Travel Plans

OK, I was holding off on posting this until everything was settled.

Tommorrow is the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. All schools get a week off for this holiday (starting on October first, rather than covering that week, oddly). As such, I won’t have any classes until the 9th. So, I decided to travel to Hong Kong to visit some friends of mine.

I’m not leaving immediately, as I was late getting things arranged and can’t find a place to stay the first few days. Instead, I will be flying to Shenzhen on China Air Lines flight 6327 and then taking a bus on my own into Hong Kong. I normally would not travel alone, but I was unable to find anyone to go to Hong Kong with me (most are going to Beijing or Shanghai, and a lot of the "undecideds" I’ve talked to don’t have multiple-entry visas), and I have friends in Hong Kong that I haven’t seen for several years, and I’m hoping to get one of them to meet me when I get there, or at least show me around a bit (of course, I know I’ll be on my own some of the time, workers in HK don’t get the week off, though mainlanders do).

Anyway, Hong Kong friends, send me an email or MSN if you can (not sure if I can get to facebook even through Tor right now).

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I thought I’d take a minute and describe my language courses at Zhejiang. Language education in China is pretty old school, teasing out the separate skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. There is also a much higher cultural awareness of the difference between spoken and written registers in Chinese, and that can be seen as you go into higher levels of Chinese language courses. I am currently in the 3-6 class, among the last of the "beginner" classes (probably could be considered low intermediate). The intensive language course is split into four different courses

精读 (reading / grammar): This class so far has put a huge part of the focus on memorizing vocabulary lists, with the bulk of the lecture being usage advice on a few of the key vocabulary terms. Every lesson we have a 听写 (listen and write) quiz on around 40 new vocabulary terms, some of them using new characters, others being compounds of characters we should already know. Many of the new vocabulary are for use in the written register (书面语 "book-language") — a classmate of mine who is Chinese-German with pretty much native-level spoken Mandarin remarked that a good number of them were new to her. There is also a short reading that goes with each lesson, and we are asked to construct sentences using new vocabulary.

口语 (spoken language): 口语 (kou3yu3) literally translates as "mouth-language", referring to spoken language, which this class was geared toward developing. To me the spoken language class seems to be a bit behind the reading classes in terms of grade level. Each lesson has two dialogues and a list of exercises, which include giving original monologues in front of the class. For me, this is the "fun" class, as I like having some interaction and involvement in my language learning.

听力 (listening comprehension): Older Americans might remember something similar to this class format. We were at separate desks each with a set of headphones and a small media device that was hooked up to the teacher’s computer. We then had to listen to recorded dialogues and answer questions about them in a workbook. Pretty much everyone I talked to hates this class, almost universally describing it as "boring". As I said before, language instruction in China is old-school, and continues to use techniques that aren’t that common in the US anymore. The highlight of the class is during breaks when the teacher plays Chinese pop songs for us.

阅读 (reading comprehension): This class involved reading a number of short texts and answering standard reading-comprehension questions (mostly multiple choice). The first lesson involved a couple of short essays, an article from Sina.com, some jokes and two poems. This class made me feel that I might have been placed a little too high, since I was missing a lot of information as I tried to read each text. I’ll give it some time before I think about changing, though.

All in all, the classes are not too bad. I feel like each one of them gives me some level of challenge. The only class I wish I could get rid of entirely is listening comprehension — to me it seems to be an outdated format that doesn’t add much to my learning and just isn’t as stimulating as the other courses.

[categories Expl, Trav, China]

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Sorry for the delay. Between figuring out my internet and generally getting situated I’ve been slightly busy.

So far Zhejiang University (浙江大学) has made a pretty good impression on me. Despite a few hiccups in the registration and placement test, I’ve managed to get myself pretty much settled in. The quality of the dorms is fairly reminiscent of some of WVU’s older dorms, and decently comfortable, and the restaurant in the international dorm has pretty good food (I haven’t actually sampled the other cafeterias on campus, though from looking they seem to be similar to what I saw in Suzhou).

My main complaint is that as an international student, my whole world is basically in this one corner of the campus, and it’s entirely too easy to just sit here the whole time and not go out and meet Chinese students, if you let yourself. That’s not a huge problem, though, as I’ve been walking around on the main campus a good bit and been able to strike up some conversations, and it’s not as if the international students here aren’t interesting — I have met some people from Spain, Australia, Japan, and a good number from South Korea. I’m hoping as time goes on there will be some events that include domestic students, and I have seen some potential opportunities starting to appear, more on that later.

Main Gate at Zheda
Zheda Main Gate by you.

International Student Dormitory
My Dorm by you.

The "supermarket" (超市) near my dorm
Campus Supermarket by you.

And of course …
Who do you think by you.
… this area is right inside the main gate, you can’t miss him.

Communication Status:

I have recently gotten my Internet working fully again. Most sites are accessible, and Flickr (which from reports had been blocked before) seems to be fully accessible, though Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress.com are still unavailable without using some sort of workaround. I’ve been able to get Tor working, but it’s very slow, so for people following this on Facebook, expect me to just check in once in a while, but not do too much there (having the new Facebook Lite interface is a help). Also, thanks for all the comments wishing me luck, sorry that I don’t respond to them.

If you really need to contact me, the best ways are through my IM services (Skype, MSN, and QQ) or through email.

EDIT: Not two minutes after I posted this, Flickr was gone again. Meh. Could be just me, of course.

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In China

So, I just now have been able to set up my Internet connection. Unfortunately there are a whole lot of problems with it that I can’t seem to figure out at the moment.

What works (those things that can’t fool me with a cached page, anyway):

Gmail
QQ (Chinese IM service)

What (definitely) doesn’t work:

Web Browsing (as in, I cannot at the moment see any web page that I don’t have cached)
MSN
Skype
iTunes

I’m thinking there is some sort of serious connection problem. My Gmail won’t even show images in emails (and Google reader is showing my feeds, but for some reason all images are missing, which sucks since the RSS feeds I read most regularly are web comics).

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Well, I haven’t updated this for a long time, and I don’t think anyone is following at all, but I thought I would make a post to say that I will be going to China very soon, and that means I will probably be posting somewhat regularly (Internet connection permitting) once I get there.  As it stands now, my plane leaves Pittsburgh on Friday morning and I will be arriving in Shanghai late at night on Saturday (late at night over in China that is).  Updates when I get to China.

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