After exiting the plane, I walked halfway across the airport to meet up with Joe, our program director, and Gabe, one of the other members of the fantastic four. When I finally met up with Joe, he was with another guy… but it wasn’t Gabe, it was Clayton, who had arrived within the time frame but didn’t bother to tell anyone when he was arriving. Gabe eventually emerged, having been held up at customs because he decided to show them every single piece of paper he had about his acceptance and visa. Apparently they thought he was showing it to them because he didn’t know how to get to the school and wanted directions… whoops. And last but not least, Margo, the last member of the fantastic four, arrived the night before and was waiting for us at the hotel.
Now because Clayton didn’t inform Joe that he would be arriving with us, Joe had only hired a regular sized car that did not fit all of our luggage (especially since the boys were coming with all of their things), so while Clayton sat in the front with nothing but a backpack, Joe, Gabe and I sat in the back covered in giant suitcases. I think now would be a good time to go into detail about the members of the fantastic four. First there is Gabe. Gabe is a physics major from RIT, who has actually already technically graduated (he walked), but he purposely saved a credit or two for the summer so that he could study abroad in China with financial aid. He’s from Northern New York, sort of near Buffalo. Gabe is very smart, but sometimes he’s just not there, if you know what I mean. It’s like his brain is so busy thinking that he can’t hear what’s going on around him. But he does have an amazing Borat accent, which entertains us for days. Next there is Clayton. Clayton is a massive 280 lb competitive weight lifter from Southern Illinois, down by St. Louis. He goes to school in Arkansas and lives in a small town surrounded by cornfields. Last but not least there’s Margo, from small-town Connecticut who goes to Norwich, a military school in Vermont. She’s on her way to becoming a Marine Corps officer. Then there’s me, the competitive ballroom dancing sorority girl from the West coast going to school in DC- the only one not from the country. We’re a very eclectic group.
We all go to school at Shaanxi Normal University (Shaanxi is the providence Xi’an is in), and we live in a…. wait for it…. hotel. We were all put on different floors: Clayton and I on the non-existent 1st floor (there are only 3 rooms), Gabe on the 7th floor and Margo on the 10th floor. Margo and Clayton really lucked out- their rooms are twice the size of me and Gabe’s, and Margo even has a balcony! My room is by far the worst. Not only is it super tiny, it doesn’t have a dresser. Joe said he would have me moved to a different room once there was available space so that I could have somewhere to put my clothes. While living in a hotel is nice (especially the bathroom, we have a real shower!), it’s a little awkward. There are two very large beds, which basically take up the entire room. Then there are two lounge chairs with a little table and water boiler. I put my stuff all over the chairs because there’s no way anyone can sit on them because they’re crammed between my bed and the wall. Then there is one small dresser with two drawers (one for my roommate and one for me!), one desk with one Ethernet cord and one small dresser (except my room didn’t have one).
The hotel is pretty nice, but the management is a mess. The night Margo arrived, she didn’t get to the hotel until around 11:30 pm, and the room she was given already had a Chinese person sleeping in it! She gave him a heart attack. They are supposed to give rooms to students only, but to make extra money they host events and let people stay in the hotel. Because of this, they didn’t have enough rooms for all of us, so Gabe had to stay in a different hotel across the street for a few nights, and I had to wait over a week for a room with a dresser. They also didn’t have enough key cards for everyone, so half of the CLS Chinese roommates had to wait two weeks for key cards to get into their rooms, and had to ask the front desk to let them into their rooms every day.
Speaking of CLS, it’s a summer study abroad program through the state department, hosted by Alliance. They send 30 students to Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an every summer, for an all expenses paid study abroad program. It’s pretty intense- they’re only allowed to speak Chinese (which most of them break in the evenings when they’re out of earshot of their teachers and Chinese roommates), and they have four hours of Chinese a day, rather than three. It’s kind of funny that they outnumber us so much, seeing as my study abroad program is hosting them, but a few of them are pretty cool, and we’ve chatted… a little. I think most of them aren’t sure how much Chinese we know and feel awkward talking to us, even if we say hi to them. It’s weird… but I guess I’ll just make Chinese friends.
It was funny how “chill” our orientation was compared to Beijing. Over the course of the first few days we went to the city wall, Hui Min Jie (the Muslim street) and the mosque. It was funny because I had already been to all of these places with the Beijing group the weekend we visited Xi’an (sorry, this was during my computer problem period- I’ll throw a post in eventually). The first night we went to Hai Di Lao (a famous hotpot chain) with Joe and his girlfriend Shu Shu. Shu Shu is from Chongqing and loves hotpot. She’s also gorgeous and nice, but she is kind of afraid to speak English, so I talked with her in Chinese. She told me that she loves fashion and wants to start her own online boutique. Sounds awesome to me!
In the first few days everyone else took the placement test (I didn’t have to! MWAHAHA), and we were divided into two classes: Clayton and Margo in 200 (starting on the second book), and Gabe and I in 300 (starting on the fourth book). Lu Laoshi, the head teacher from Beijing, is in Xi’an over the summer to oversee all of the teachers in Xi’an- especially the CLS program. It’s funny to see him around since he taught my third class every Tuesday and Thursday and made me ballroom dance twice in front of the class.
That weekend we pretty much had free reign and we definitely took advantage of it. Friday we woke up early and met at 8:45 to ride bikes around the city wall. It was excruciatingly hot, which is why we went so early- but it was definitely a lot of fun, and I got a really great purse tan line across my chest. The city wall is left over from Ming Dynasty, and it is the oldest surviving city wall- as well as one of the only intact city walls in China (most were leveled during the Cultural revolution to aid efficient city planning). As of now, the city wall encompasses the city center- and Xian spreads out in all directions from there. Saturday evening we went to Hui Min Jie, the Muslim street. This area is really great, it has tons of restaurants, food stalls, and souvenirs galore. When I went with the Beijing group we bought soooo many souvenirs (including a “silk” robe that I wore home on the train). The four of us ate some great Yang Rou Chuar (aka BBQ lamb on a skewer with amazing spices) as well as a bowl of beef noodles. While drinking a cup of plumb juice, I bartered for a few gifts and souvenirs. My favorite is a stuffed panda I named Xiao Pang (Little Fat), who is so fat he is literally a sphere. While the night market is awesome during the day, it is even better at night- with blue and white lights strung through all of the trees.
Soon we’ll be getting our Chinese roommates, which should be an interesting experience. I’m expecting someone roughly like all of our language partners in Beijing: a grad student who studies a lot and never goes out, but is super nice and wants me to understand and experience China. We’re meeting our roommates this Friday so I’ll let you all know how it goes.