After class on Friday, we all met up with Joe to go on an outing with out Chinese roommates. When I arrived downstairs with Margo, one girl was already in the lobby. Her name was Xing Cheng, or Cheng as we call her, and she was Margo’s roommate. She was just finishing up her freshman year, which seemed a little young to me, but whatever- Margo’s only 19 anyway. She was very excited to meet all of us, and her English was… decent. As the five of us waited for the other roommates to arrive, we realized they were all running a bit late. My roommate called saying that she was bringing her suitcase so she was running a bit slow, but we hadn’t heard from the boys. Eventually my roommate arrived, Jia Lin- also a freshman majoring in Political Science. I took her to our room so that she could put her suitcase away. I apologized for the mess on my bed seeing as I had just moved into the room two hours beforehand and I still had stuff strewn all over my bed. Jia Lin spoke pretty good English compared to Cheng, which is probably not a great thing because I need to practice my Chinese and it will be too easy to slip into English since her English is better than my Chinese. Jia Lin is also from Xinjiang, which is really cool because we’ll be going there later in the summer!
The third roommate to arrive: Peng Wei, was Clayton’s roommate. Peng Wei speaks basically no English (he understands some but refuses to speak it), which is not that great because Clayton’s Chinese is not that advanced… but maybe Peng Wei will get Clayton a lot better at Chinese? The last of the four roommates, however, was nowhere to be found. Joe called him but his phone was off- so we left without him, hoping that he could meet up with us later. Our excursion was to the tv tower just south of campus, which has the best view of Xi’an. As we were walking to the tv tower, Jia Lin went on a rant about how it was too hot and how much she hates hot weather. Isn’t Xinjiang in the desert? Eventually we made it to the tv tower, drenched in sweat, which Jia Lin attempted to solve by handing us all little napkins. We took the elevator to the top of the tower which… had a glass floor? It wasn’t even plexi glass it was just glass. There was even one part of the tower floor where the glass was broken and the area was roped off… safe. Peng Wei was especially scared of the glass and only walked along the support beams- and I don’t blame him seeing as the engineers may not have had 280 lb body builders in mind when making the floor.
After enjoying the views of the city, the crazy group of us walked to one of Joe’s favorite Chinese BBQ restaurants. He ordered us chicken and lamb chuar, as well as spicy baked eggplant, garlic cucumbers, and water-peanuts (peanuts soaked in water with some sort of flavoring). Eventually we were able to get a hold of Gabe’s roommate, Shang Ren, who joined us. After gorging ourselves on amazing BBQ, we decided that the next logical place to go would be Karaoke. The eight of us walked back towards campus to the local karaoke bar. We got a small room and started the play list. It was a little awkward because the Chinese girls wanted to sing Chinese songs that we had never heard of, and we were all singing American songs that they may or may not have heard of, but definitely didn’t know how to sing- so we switched back and forth. Basically it was either Cheng and Jia Lin singing or Margo and I singing. None of the boys sang- awkward. Margo and I had fun rocking out to Lady Gaga, Brittany Spears and Michael Jackson, while the Chinese girls sang to their favorite Chinese pop stars as well as Celine Dion and Avril Lavigne. The only problem with this karaoke outing was that Jia Lin, a fairly decent singer, didn’t realize that when you go up octaves you need to pull the microphone away from your mouth, not closer to it. She was basically eating the microphone while singing so loud that I thought my eardrums and the glass table were going to shatter. Every time she started singing one of us would run to turn her microphone down, and then we’d have to turn it back up for the next person. Overall a fun evening, even if I was partially deaf by the end of it.
After Karaoke, the Chinese students told us they needed to go straight back to campus because they needed to be in the hotel by 10 for curfew. What?! Apparently all Chinese student at Shi Da (Shaanxi Shirfan Daxue- or Shaanxi Normal University) need to be in their dorms by 10- same with Cheng’s school on the other side of Xi’an. We told them that they’re living in a hotel now so they don’t have a curfew, but they told us that their teachers warned them that “they would know” if the roommates broke curfew. Creepy.
The roommates moved in the Friday before their finals started, and Jia Lin had a bunch. But that didn’t stop them from taking us shopping on Sunday, where we bought sparkly parasols (to fit in with all of the Chinese girls that are obsessed with keeping their skin white), and I bought a long skirt- also to blend in. That next week Jia Lin had many finals- all at 8am. She basically didn’t sleep. She would either go to bed very, very late or just not sleep at all and sleep all day- which would be fine except our curtains are blackout curtains and the room is pitch dark.
Now the problem with Jia Lin waking up at the crack of dawn for finals is that she is very, very, very loud. For example: Her first 8am final, her alarm went off at 5:30 am. The volume was turned up all the way to a very high-pitched pop song, and the back of her iphone has some sort of strobe-light that she installed, so I woke up out of a dead sleep to a party in my room at 5:30 am. Jia Lin sleeps like a rock, so I had to wake her up to tell her that her alarm was going off. “Oh,” she said, and went back to bed. Five minutes later- party. I had to wake her up again. Finally around 6:30 she got up out of bed and turned all of the lights on. “JIA LIN.” I said, “I’m trying to sleep, can you please turn the lights off”. “Oh!”, she seemed so surprised that turning all of the lights on would wake me up. She then ran over to the curtains and opened those- basically the same thing as the lights but I had given up at this point and put my head under my pillow. I was fuming and couldn’t fall back asleep. Finally, after about 45 minutes I realized that I hadn’t heard her moving around at all. I looked over and she had been sitting there on her bed texting a friend for the last 45 minutes. “Jia Lin!”, I said “If you’re not going to get ready can you please close the blinds”. “Oh!” she exclaimed, and jumped out of bed and started getting ready. She then went to take a shower and I started to try to fall back asleep, even though I needed to be up in an hour at this point. After a good 20 minute shower Jia Lin emerged and started blow drying her hair in the room. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
This escapade continued for the rest of the week- Jia Lin either waking up at the crack of dawn or not sleeping, and then sleeping all day- but at least she stopped turning on the lights or opening the curtains all the way. Now whenever she wants to use the blow dryer she wiggles my pinkie to ask me if she can use it (yes, she wiggles my pinkie). Now that finals are over, Jia Lin likes to sleep in until 1, which is more than fine with me, because at least I get to sleep. I normally wake up around 7:45, get ready and head downstairs to study for my ting xie (a quiz on the day’s characters that we have every morning), and then make the 10-15 minute walk to class. Now that it is summer for Jia Lin, she normally isn’t even in the room when I go to sleep because she’s out until 2am at karaoke or a party or she just doesn’t come back at all because she is literally out all night. So much for a curfew.
As for having fun Chinese friends, we definitely found people to hang out with. Jia Lin and Cheng are always taking Margo and I shopping or to fun restaurants. While Peng Wei doesn’t really hang out with us at all, the seven of us (fantastic four + three roommates), hang out together a lot. After one week of knowing each other, Jia Lin and Shang Ren, Gabe’s roommate, started dating. Now this is very interesting because when we first met Jia Lin, she wouldn’t stop talking about her ex boyfriend. They had broken up over a year ago, but they “just can’t forget each other”. When I asked why they didn’t just get back together, she told me that “we have changed. We are different people now and we can’t go back to the way things were”. Once she and Shang Ren started dating she told me that she thinks he is “okay” and “a nice boy”. One day, I got a text from her telling me that she had a new number. I assumed she had lost her phone or something, but apparently she changed her phone number so that her ex boyfriend wouldn’t be able to text her ever again. Hasn’t she ever heard of blocking a number? She told me she needs “a new boy for a new life”. A little dramatic, but who am I to judge.
Watching Jia Lin and Shang Ren is hilarious because she loves to do the typical, pouty, bossy Chinese- girl routine and he puts up with all of it- except he always has a little, knowing smile on his face. For example, when we went to eat hotpot, whenever Shang Ren would attempt to put food in the pot Jia Lin would slap his wrist, take the food and do it herself because he wasn’t “dividing it right”. Margo asked him, “are you going to let her do that?”, and he just laughed it off. I’m trying to figure out how this whole relationship thing works in China. Men put up with way more stuff here than they do elsewhere in the world. Girlfriends are bossy, demanding, slap boyfriends and pout when they don’t get what they want; girls also force their boyfriends to wear matching outfits with them. I have come to the conclusion that girls prioritize guys who will put up with them and give them what they want, rather than guys who are attractive. I hate to say it, but with almost every Chinese couple the girl is ridiculously more attractive than the boy. Although, Chinese girls also don’t shave their armpits, which is very strange to me (they might in Beijing and Shanghai, but not over here in Xi’an). That’s probably why they all wear dresses and shirts with sleeves, while they wear the shortest shorts imaginable. I asked one of my Chinese teachers why Chinese girls always wear very high-cut tops but extremely short bottoms, and she said it was because Chinese girls are self conscious about not having boobs. But not having boobs gives you leeway to wear much lower-cut things?
Overall, our Chinese roommates were definitely the opposite of what I was expecting. They all just finished their freshman year, they’re extremely outgoing, love to drink and go to parties, and are generally not the typical Chinese college student. But they all have one thing in common (except Peng Wei, he doesn’t count), they signed up for this program because they want to get to know Americans, and that is why, even though they’re a little crazy- I love them all.