In The Classroom

So far I haven’t said much about my classes and that’s partly because I’ve been too busy trying to get up to speed with them to really think about the content and so on. But it did occur to me this evening, as four character strings echoed around my mind involuntarily, that they are quite effective. I am also talking to myself in Chinese and can say that it is making about as much sense as it does when I talk to myself in English, read that how you will.

I have classes from 1pm to 4:40pm every day more or less with a couple of breaks in the middle of the sitting to clear the mind or change the subject. Lucky me since in the mainstream I have heard tell of classes as long as three hours, officially with no break. Our grade has five subjects: spoken language, general Chinese, essay writing, intensive reading and an option which for me is business Chinese. Thankfully essays are only one slot a week; any more than that and I would revolt and passing out certificate be damned. To compensate for such mutinous thoughts I’m taking an extra optional course in listening comprehension.

We had a lovely passage from the evening news in last week’s business Chinese class which could have doubled as listening incomprehension. I think when they hire people to anchor the news here they test them in speed reading autocues first since honestly you’ve never heard anyone speak so fast. Thank God there were pictures involved so I knew they were talking about share prices. I reckon I caught one word in ten although happily one of the ones I caught provided the answer to my question from the teacher, since I was one of the lucky ones to be called upon in that section. I didn’t really understand what she was after but just said the only word I’d heard which seemed to do the trick.

Generally the workload is about right. You could coast through the classes and not do the homework if you’re willing to risk a pass the basis of the mid and end of term exams alone (c80% subject dependant) or you can easily fill most of your spare time with preparation and revision of the previous classes’ subject matter. Since I switched class from the morning to the afternoon I am now somewhere between the two. Strangely I am not as motivated to get up at 7am for revision as I am if someone is ticking my name off the attendance list at 8am, more’s the pity.

Textbook subject matter has come on a lot since I was last here, in line with everything else. It is actually a bit of a weird paradox. While politics is never touched upon the transformation of modern society and the pros and cons that accompany the shift from a planned to a market economy is a theme running through more than half of the lessons. We have anything from nostalgic essays about “My Teachers” and “My Father” rammed full of four character phrases, chengyu, that need about ten minutes of background each since they often have a parable attached, to social observations about the stresses that have come with China’s transition, what kind of part time jobs are best for students who are self-supporting and the possibility of a caterpillar pestilence due to global warming. It’s quite a change from the political tracts we waded through when I was in Shanghai in 2002.

Perhaps more on that later but now I’ve got to finish my homework.

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