A Tuesday in Harbin, China

Written by Casey Stevens, (Student Correspondent), University of Massachusetts-Amherst CET Intensive Chinese Language in Harbin, Summer 2015

7:00 am – Wake Up

Shen Jia Xin’s (沈佳鑫) alarm sings its sonorous tune, eyes are dragged open, and the first exchange we have consists of, “我很困” or, in English, “I’m exhausted.” Jia Xin, my roommate, and I head to the nearest cafeteria to enjoy a selection including, but not limited to: 馅饼 (xianr bing – meat pie) ,豆浆 (dou jiang – soy milk), and 鸡蛋 (ji dan – hard-boiled egg). After a helping of protein and carbohydrates, used to fuel our studies, we head back to dormitory #6 and prepare for class.

10:00 pm-11:50 pm – Conversation Class (口语课)

Conversation class is, in its most basic sense, comparable to standard Chinese classes I’ve taken in the United States, albeit a bit more intense. Every other class, frequency is three times per week, two, out of four, students must give an oral presentation. Our professor, 曹老师, then drills us with flashcards consisting of recently studied vocabulary and grammar structures. She then guides us in restating dialogue from our text. This takes us to the end of the class period.

Monument Outside of Tai Yang Island

Monument Outside of Tai Yang Island.

1:00pm-1:50 pm – One-on-Two Drill (一对二课)

Time to strain my brain. My professor, with growing urgency, flips flash card after flash card in front of my face, I rattle off vocabulary as quick as my memory can muster. Before almost every one-on-two class, students are expected to remember, and recite, a previously assigned dialogue. I wade slowly through characters jumbled in my head, attempting to reproduce, word for word, the studied dialogue; needless to say, some days go better than others.

3:00pm-4:50 pm – One-on-One (一对一课)

I sit down for one last class. The sun’s rays are orange with the afternoon’s touch that often puts me in a state of repose. This works in my favor as my professor, 许老师, and I begin discussing Chan Buddhism; we start with “色即是空,空即是色”.  This phrase roughly translates to: color is empty, empty is color. Color constitutes differences, beautiful/ugly, short/tall, etc… Empty constitutes a lack of color. Recently, this phrase has found a place amongst the cascade of thoughts that cloud my inner dialogue. It has helped through long hours of study and aided in alleviating pressure I put on myself to succeed.

My one-on-one course has far exceeded my expectations. Not only the subject, but my professor has gone out of her way to make me feel comfortable in an environment that was once a source of anxiety. For this, I am grateful. I am also grateful to have this opportunity to study an area that has interested me for a long time. My meditations, as of late, have been extremely successful, and I know I have this course to thank for not only academic progress but for progress in my search for spirituality.

5:00 pm – Dinner

I head to grab a quick plate of 饺子 (jiaozi – dumplings) before I head home. I smother them in vinegar and hot peppers – my favorite meal!

6:00 pm – 12:00 pm – Study

By this time, Jia Xin is typically back at the dorm, so he and I settle in to study; the study is intermingled with laughs, of course. I complete a lot of work during these nighttime hours, after which, exhausted, I lay down to sleep and give my mind a rest before doing it all over again the next day. 加油!

Tai Yang Island Entrance

Tai Yang Island Entrance.