Saturday, January 19, 2008


Brian, William and I arrived in Kunming last Sunday morning. We were greeted at Keats Language School by Keats herself (not her real name) and shown our accommodations. We all live on the fifteenth floor (each in our own little dorm room which includes a comfy bed, desk, TV, refrigerator, bathroom and hot water all day long). After we were shown our rooms, we were taken to a nearby restaurant to eat "across the bridge" noodles, a famous Kunming dish. When you order these noodles, you are brought a huge bowl of hot chicken broth, a bowl of noodles and a plate of raw meats, vegetables, and a quail egg. The chicken broth is so hot that it cooks the other ingredients when they are added to it. It's pretty good. After brunch we returned to our rooms to unpack and rest before meeting our teachers.

After meeting our teachers, they took us to the local Carrefour to buy some food stuffs for the week. There was a small foreign foods section so we were able to buy cheese, salsa, cereal and real milk (well, milk more like we're used to anyway). I know it's only been a week, but I'm not sure what we did in the afternoon/evening of Sunday.

Monday morning class began at 8:30. My teacher wanted to start with learning Pinyin (which I already know) and doing very basic things. By the end of the four hours, we had moved quite a ways ahead from where we began. Every day we have class for four hours in the morning with a fifteen minute break at some point. On the first day of class, I came back from my break, and my teacher, Ao Dan, was very serious and asked if she could admit something to me. I said, "Sure!" Turns out, she really didn't want to stay and teach. She was homesick (she's young, still a college student) and really wanted to go home for the break. She told Keats about this, but Keats told her it was impossible for her to abandon me, and that she would just have to finish teaching. So after awhile, I realized what Ao Dan wanted from me was to tell Keats that she just wasn't going to work out and that I would like to change teachers. Apparently, that was the only way she could be released from her responsibilities. So, on that first day, after class I asked Keats for another teacher. I felt like a jerk because I've never acted unsatisfied about anything or anyone before, but it was the only way that Ao Dan could go home, and she needed to.

Tuesday: Tuesday my studies really began. Keats gave me a really professional instructor. Huang Laoshi (Teacher Huang) speaks mostly Chinese to me (whereas, Ao Dan spoke mostly English), and she's very strict. Well, she's strict, but she's also very patient and kind. She's currently working on her Master's Degree, I think. She's 27, married and has a child. I know she's not much older than me, but it certainly feels like she is.

Daily Schedule (our lives are strictly regimented so here's the rundown):
6:30 - 8:00 ~ Study Chinese, quiet devotional, breakfast
8:10 - 12:10 ~ One-on-one study with Huang Laoshi
12:30 - 1:30 ~ Lunch with the boys (We usually try to eat near the school. There's a huge concentration of Lonely Planet approved Chinese and Western restaurants in our area. We actually prefer the cheap, dirty places but have only found a few of them thus far.)
1:30 - 2:30 ~ Watch an episode of "Band of Brothers" (William brought the series with him, and it's proven to be the daily relaxation method of choice for us.)
2:30 - 6:30 ~ Good Good Study, Day Day Up (A Chinese saying that we use to remind ourselves to study hard. Those four hours for me are generally spent doing homework exercises, writing Chinese characters, and trying to memorize a grotesque amount of words.)
6:30 - 8:00 ~ Go for a walk, get lost, find a place to eat, and then come back
8:00 - 10:00 ~ Study
10:00 ~ Bed and sweet, sweet rest

We seldom stray from this schedule. The days go by pretty quickly. I don't feel like I'm getting enough study time in even though I'm spending upwards of nine or ten hours looking over the material. Crazy!


Yesterday we found out that instead of studying five days a week and having two days for the weekend, we would also have class on Saturday. If we didn't, then we would have class on Spring Festival, and our teachers wouldn't be able to spend that day at home with their families. It's equivalent of making us work on Christmas so we aren't complaining about it.


Today after class, the boys and I agreed to reward our hard work with a day of splurging. I don't think we prepared ourselves for what we would encounter. We took a taxi to the Green Lake Park, got lost while trying to find our way out, and then finally emerged near one of Kunming's universities. We found the street that we wanted (we were in search of a coffee house named Salvador's) and walked down "Western Alley". I haven't seen so many international food and clothing shops since I was home this summer. There was a French bakery shop, a Prague cafe, countless coffee shops, and Thai and Indian restaurants. We found Salvador's with little trouble. It's a quaint little place packed full of foreigners. We found a nice spot in the loft and ordered our heart's out (i.e., quesadillas, coffee, and dessert in the form of sugar covered in sugar with sugar sprinkled on top).

Quite satisfied, we left in search of the university book store. We found a Mandarin bookstore instead and bought a few bilingual books. Now that we're learning to read characters, we need some books for practice. We then found a DVD shop with the complete seasons of every show from Doogie Howser to The Office to Seinfeld. Brian bought The Office which I'm happy about because I'm apparently way out of the loop having never seen an episode.

While the boys were buying their DVDs, I spotted a shop across the street which looked a little different than the rest. I was pretty sure it was an import store. As soon as I walked in, I was overwhelmed by things like Smuckers' jam, Airheads, jellybeans, and Bubbalicious. I was so much in my own world that when William yelled, "A&W!", it took a good ten seconds to process what he was saying. We found A&W root beer and cream soda, Dr. Pepper, and Mt. Dew. They had so many things that we just can't find anywhere. It was overwhelming. We were in a daze, but when when the clerk said there was an upstairs too, it didn't take long for William to bolt up the stairs. There we found Pop Tarts, cereal, and several other things that I can't recall. At this point, I was beginning to feel a little sick, and we left pretty quickly after that. It's hard to explain just what we were feeling, but within the span of three hours (beginning with Salvador's continuing through the bookstore and ending with the import store), I nearly cried from joy (or something) several times. Maybe it was just from spending six days straight studying a language so foreign from my own and then immersing myself so completely into something absolutely familiar.

We returned to our school after that to rest before joining the other students tonight for dinner. We're supposed to meet up at six to go out. Tomorrow is our day off, but I think we'll spend it studying since we didn't study today. I have to write a journal entry about what we did today (in Chinese!) and memorize tons of words (their meaning and how to write them) so I've got a lot to do tomorrow.

But our first week is finished.

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