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Beijing Part 2: Day 31 -- Cosplay Sunday

I spent my Sunday with the BLCU Comicbook Club, a group of teen manga/anime fangirls girded with sufficient determination to cosplay (dress up as favorite characters) not only in very dodgy weather, but to march themselves to another, more photogenic, university for photos. They are even all particularly extroverted.

My presence was by invitation of 含章, my little fangirl friend who asked me to come and help them take photos. I naturally agreed. Not many more years of my life that it's likely I'll find myself in this scenario.

After a surplus of walking (the girls did not really know the best path to take), we took over an empty classroom and the rather disjointed photo session followed. There were three shooters and four girls posing. I could not really aspire to give direction, so I pretty much tried to grab the best shots of however they chose to present themselves. One of the shooters did her best to give direction, but the girls were not natural models. After the classroom was a couple rounds outdoors, where the winter relapse started to tell on the girls and their spring-weight outfits.

By the end of it I was exhausted from all that walking plus the photographic acrobatics, but my results were much better than I expected.

Listening to the girls chatter among themselves was also a Mandarin fluency reality check. I was somewhere south of 60% comprehension.


Beijing Part 2: Day 28

My unbroken streak of health since my arrival in Beijing last September has, alas, been disrupted by a cold this week. I am mostly recovered now and stubbornly did not skip a day of class.

Since my last update, my teacher appointed me class leader (and has since started pressing me to organize some social events for the class... yeah, we'll see...), I have hit the areas south of Qianmen again and finally made a visit to the 798 art district. A very good weekend for photography, especially involving my brethren making silly poses with the displays. Those gradually are making their way onto Flickr and Facething.

My second weekly meeting with 世阳 included two of her classmates, who interviewed me as part of their homework. That was actually pretty amusing as we bounced between English, Mandarin and dollops of Cantonese. I recited my still-memorized Chinese poetry for them. They said they could understand me. It was all recorded on an aging little Samsung digicam in movie mode.

The really cute portion of that afternoon came when I made a comment about 世阳's Sesame Street bag. It turns out she bought it just for the cute look and had no idea what the heck it was about. I found myself explaining Sesame Street to a 19-year-old girl while she took notes on which character's name was which.

It's Friday now. I go to fetch my dad from the airport tonight and I'm invited to a multi-school comicbook club cosplay gathering on Sunday as a camera toter. Things are alright.


Beijing Part 2: Day 21

I met up with 世阳, my tall "kid," today for the first time since the start of the new semester.

She was gung ho about trying out a particular form of language learning she'd read about, where the idea is to learn like a toddler would by associating sounds with objects, actions and images. It felt a little ridiculous at first, performing various simple actions (stand, sit, step forward, wave...) on command while next to crowded basketball courts, but it was such a nice day that feeling ridiculous was quite alright. While I don't remember all the new words, I definitely recall some.

My own photographs were somewhat suspect in their utility, since I'd had them printed with ornamentation in mind, not utilitarian vocabulary. It is, I think, of very little use at this point for 世阳 to know what robins and squirrels are called. She had some trouble pronouncing "squirrel" too.

Afterward, we sat out there for quite a while enjoying the sun and moderate temperatures.

We talked lightly about various things, but the one that sticks out is fat, which unlike in the West, is (despite some invasion of western fat paranoia) a perfectly acceptable topic of polite conversation in China. 世阳, who is one of those tallish and very thin girls, calmly explained that while many of her friends were trying to be (even) skinnier, that she imagined she'd get fatter as the years went on, and that long as she was healthy that she wasn't going to do anything about it.

I expressed certain doubts that this was a likely outcome, no matter how much she ate. 世阳 is really quite thin and I pointed out that my entire family can also put it away, yet we are not, despite being all much older than her, fat.

Was a very lovely day.


Beijing Part 2: Day 18

Heading into the second week of class, a few surprises have settled into reality.

While everybody's language skill inevitably has gaps between spoken, listening and reading/writing skills, they're especially pronounced in Chinese. My own arc has made my listening comprehension strongest, speaking second strongest and reading & writing a very distant, lagging third.

Last week, it became quickly apparent that I somehow had ended up in a class full of book-heavy students. I suspect that each and every one of them, even the 17 to 20-year-olds, can read and write Chinese more effectively than I can (maybe not more beautifully, but more effectively) but when the teacher calls for speaking?


Literally nobody would volunteer to speak up except for me. I quickly stopped volunteering immediately, as this creates an uncomfortable dynamic for everybody. Nevertheless, my willingness to talk, perhaps in tandem with the revelation of my real age, generated what I call an illusion of holistic competency.

A couple of my classmates, with whom I had not had any time to speak, came to ask me questions during break about the text. I was able to answer part of the time, even when I had to struggle to explain simple Chinese with even more simple Chinese because the supplicant didn't speak English.

Hopefully my fumbling with reading from print in class has dispelled notions that I'm a valid authority to appeal to when it comes to hanzi.

Additional new semester trivia:

  • There is French girl in my class who was insisting today she had an apartment in Xizhimen and walked to school every day in 15 minutes. You couldn't cover that distance on foot in an hour, possibly not even in two. After class, I talked to her, waved a subway map and she admitted she'd made a mistake. She is adorable.

  • My biker jacket and engineer boots appear to be having the predicted effect of increasing my aura of foreignness. People eye me.

  • Tomorrow we will have dictation in Chinese and need to write, Chinese. I'm going to die.


Beijing Part 2: Day 13, Birthday Sidebar

Despite my absolute neglect of informing any of my Beijing friends that it was my birthday until today, luck was with me. I got three of my dorm mates to go to dinner, where we ran into my former classmate and several of his friends. We joined up, had a much bigger spread of food than either group otherwise would have, and they all kindly pitched in to pay my share.

Two of my fellow dorm 8 friends were very sweet to me and used the few hours of notice to buy me cards and small presents.

Just goes to show the enormous gulf that's built up over time between how much I emphasize my birthday versus how much other people emphasize everybody's birthday.


Beijing Part 2: Day 13, Birthday!

Today, our third day of class for the semester, is my birthday.

I told my teacher, who as I'd guessed, had grossly underestimated my age. He was also my placement test proctor. During the verbal interview phase, he actually had asked me if my parents told me to go to China to study. Thought I was a baby.

My teacher proceeded to announce my birthday to the class, and then make all of them guess how old I was. Only the Italian girl, who cheated because she was sitting behind me when I fessed up my age, got it right.

One of the Mongolians gave me a piece of candy.

Beijing Part 2: Day 7

Took my placement test this morning.

On one hand, it was easier in that I could actually take a stab at the entire written test unlike last time when I had to quit after ten questions because I couldn't read any more.

On the other, I had to do the whole written test, which included a short composition that I wasn't well prepared for.

The interview phase was no trouble, especially after the bar was set very low. The very first student who handed in her test and did the verbal portion was (I think) a Japanese girl who literally couldn't speak a word of Chinese. We all felt for her standing there in silence.

Results tomorrow. I just hope I didn't generate an artificially high sense of my abilities. We are given the option to switch classes up or down, but it's a little hassle and humiliation to actually have to do a down switch. Better to be placed right to begin with.

Sun came back out for test day. Nice outside.


Beijing Part 2: Day 6

A Fine Mix
Originally uploaded by Leighgion
Dinner from a couple days ago. Bit chaotic ordering, but not bad at all.

Yesterday, luck drew me my pretty, if surly, hairdresser again at the Conference Center salon. I am once more neatly coiffed.

Still terribly sleepy. Warm room and noisy street make it hard to stay in bed for the required periods of time.

Tomorrow morning is our placement test. For some reason, I am provisionally in the highest class out of all my returning classmates. Not sure why. I tested very well in listening and speaking, but not so great on reading and writing.

Beijing Part 2: Day 5

The Near and Far
Originally uploaded by Leighgion
My flight back to Beijing was nothing I can complain about. I drew two seats to myself which included a window. Took some advantage and did some shooting by moonlight over Russia or Mongolia.

Nevertheless, cumulative sleep deprivation that started before the flight resulted in post-flight headache, body temperature flux, body aches and hints of nausea at the sight of perfectly good food. Sleeping for the bulk of the weekend cured most of that.

Yesterday was the first day of registration. Took care of it all. Feels good!

Still tired, but the hyper-heated dorm and being back right by the street makes it hard to sleep more than a few hours at a time. Will have to work on that.

Counting Down

I fly back to Beijing the day after tomorrow.

I've been to the eye doctor and got a new supply of contact lenses. He dilated my eyes and I stumbled off into the blazing sun, groping blindly to the car where my sunglasses were. I learned that day that all of my camera lenses perform better wide open in daylight than my own eyes do. Every light source was haloed and flaring. Must be what vampires feel like.

I've been to the dentist. My hygienist says my gums have actually improved. The dental office now has free wifi. I chatted with my sister via IM on my iPod Touch while I waited. In the dental chair.

I have my new camera, new camera bag, new jeans, new jacket and new boots. Boots are without doubt, the finest I've ever owned. Chippewa engineer boots: totally worth it.

I have my passport and new visa back, as well as the papers I need to register at school.

Everything is on track. Just need to finish generating (Tai Chi & Pa Kua) DVD stock for my absence, which I've been gradually doing over the past week so I should comfortably be able to complete it tomorrow.

Aside from a bit of a headache likely due to my still-mangled sleep cycle, there's no reason for me to be grouchy.

I'm still grouchy.

Simple tasks like packing, and the attendant decisions that need making, irritate me when on a deadline which, of course, packing always comes with.