I have found it harder than I expected to get involved even in the international cultural exchange groups: I signed up to the Tsinghua Buddy system before I arrived, emailed the rep yet again as she introduced the benefits of the system to us on our induction day and for good measure emailed another society which is all about language and cultural exchange. Not a single response. So hey, I’ll find friends another way.
Saying that, I finally got picked up in the canteen today for the first time since I arrived. A female student sat down opposite me at lunchtime and asked me where I was from. I answered in Chinese and so we continued though I suspect her English was pretty good. She comes from Guangdong and is a research student in the law faculty – there seems to be quite a lot of that about: it’s pretty competitive to get in from what I gather but it’s just as hard to get a decent job on the outside so a lot of students stay on in academia if they can pass the exams.
Her Mandarin was great – I joke but quite often I find Cantonese speakers’ accents impenetrable – and it turns out her family are Hakka (shout out to Angeleen). During the course of our conversation one of the girls across the aisle from us said to my companion “are you Cantonese?” and struck up a lengthy exchange involving some musical chairs so that we weren’t talking in diagonals.
Actually I think it might have been a cunning ruse to break me and my new buddy up as the girl now repositioned beside me has been told by her language teacher that she has to get in 5 minutes of practice a day with a foreigner. I used to hate these language exchange type things but I’m lucky enough to be here surrounded by Mandarin so 5 minutes out of my day speaking English with her isn’t really a big deal. Lisa happens to be off to Nottingham this summer to study business management or somesuch (communication though earnest was not always clear to both sides – something that could also be said of my Mandarin). Her English was already pretty good though with extremely precise articulation. She wanted to know what I thought of Nottingham – not qualified to have a view – and what clothes she should take with her because is it true it rains a lot? They must be using the same textbooks worldwide.
Having exchanged numbers I launched into the Society Fair. About a hundred stalls were set up with societies for everything from breakdancing through to Philharmonia appreciation, orienteering, magic appreciation, stargazing, the ghost society, the wine club and various marshall arts. The most lonely looking chaps were the mu society for the appreciation of maths. No prizes for guessing which of those I might have signed up to but who could resist the chap in a dapper black velvet suit blasting out O Mio Babbino Caro on a boogie box?
Today is also Female Students’ Day so by tradition the boys in all classes make a banner for their female classmates lauding them in one way or another. Throughout the trees they hung red banners with various slogans such as “the flowerbuds which sprout in Yuanmingyuan [the old Summer Palace] flourish brightly in Tsinghua”. That’s not the most poetic of translations but I assume the flowers are the female classmates and that there is a compliment in there somewhere.
Further samples I could just about understand (poetry is beautiful but can be quite mystifying in Chinese) included “It is not innocence that will smash you but the goddesses of class 1 Medicine”, “in one hundred years of Tsinghua, you are that which we have aspired to. Debating goddesses, no one can compare with you”. It sounds a lot better in Chinese. The only one I can really do justice to (although I can’t make it rhyme) is “We will love you for one hundred years, each year as though it were first love”. Aaaaaah.
As an addendum this is all a day late due to technical difficulties with WordPress (another story). I stayed in the coffee shop off campus until nearly midnight last night writing my Chinese essay on “Beijing’s bicycles” (what is student life without an essay crisis?) As I approached my building the football field was covered in groups of students huddled around their own floor level yellow lamp. Much hilarity was underway so I guess they must have being carrying out initiations for their lucky new club members.