Written by Dillan Trojan, (Wofford College) Student Correspondent Middlebury School in China: Kunming, Fall 2015
Every weekend, the Middlebury program tries to organize a fun activity. Two weekends prior was the hiking of Xi Mountain. This past weekend was a badminton tournament. For those that aren’t aware, there is a MASSIVE badminton culture in China. I thought/think this is kind of bizarre, but I had the same feeling when I found out about stuff like ping-pong animosity and when old people clap in public for no reason that I can fathom. I feel like my reaction to badminton is pretty standard for Americans. When I think badminton, I think of a backyard sport that your family gets for a cookout that gets played for half the time that you spent putting the net up. In China, badminton intensity ranges from older people in the park playing freestyle and frankly “getting it”, to all other ages that reserve their spot at the local badminton courts to have matches. Everyone has their own rackets and the competitions can get pretty intense. I don’t want any of you to take this lightly either. Don’t compare its intensity to a game of “don’t let the balloon touch the floor” – not much movement, exert as much effort as you feel, and you can play with things from around the house. I would compare it to the intensity of a game of racquetball – which is extremely exhausting if you’re playing correctly. I think the game is actually relatively similar with the exception that the feathers on the shuttlecock slow the ball down enough for you to play over the net. I was original planning on going to the tournament just to take pictures with a friend’s DSLR camera and then go workout. I ended up playing badminton for about 3 hours straight – drenched in sweat just wanting a nap.
We played doubles for the tournament, but my partner and I had been playing for all of 14 and a half minutes, so we got eliminated almost immediately, but rather than hang our heads in shame, we picked our heads up (in shame) so we could see the ball and continue to train. You never know when the next tournament is coming. It was actually a lot of fun. Both the students and roommates had an absolute blast. I think the roommates came expecting to have fun, and all of the students were leaving in complete shock that it was as fun as it was.
A quick update on my classes: In the past week, I’ve had a bit of a schedule change. My Classical Chinese class, being taught as a one-on-one by a graduate student, had to be canceled. The graduate student didn’t have enough time to conduct the research she needed, and the program decided that because I was the only student, it wasn’t worth the trouble to find another teacher for this class. The new teacher also wouldn’t likely have any teaching experience. After three days of mass confusion between myself, several professors, and the program coordinator, my schedule’s only change was the nature of the Ancient Chinese Literature (Classical Chinese), to “Ancient Chinese Culture and how it transformed into Modern Chinese Culture”, which is taught by the head of the Middlebury: Kunming program herself as a one-on-one. My goal for selecting classes in this program was to find something that would just be challenging and help me develop an all new set of vocabulary. Well for me, it really doesn’t get any more challenging than history. Friday, I had my first test on the seven countries of the warring states period. It went very well! Although I still don’t really know much background before the warring states period, I couldn’t know the material any better. Good start to a challenging class.
My other classes are going really well. I especially appreciate the social issues we’re able to discuss in my class on China’s Urban Floating Population. I think as individuals it’s easy to think of quick solutions to larger social issues. This is especially true when we’re not totally aware of everything that led to one social issue and the next. In this class we talk about the effect of China’s massive population on the growth of the economy, how the government is trying to deal with it, and the policies that are in place to deal with the massive movement of about 2/3rds of the rural population to China’s very new cities. What I think is most frustrating and most exciting is how current these policies and issues are. So many times our discussions have to end in “we don’t know what will happen yet, it’s a brand new issue”.
Jeet Kun Dao is great as always (this counts as curriculum to me). This class had several new classmates from last week, which is great because we don’t want to feel comfortable by any means. We started the class by learning the move-set that we do to signal the beginning of class – a sort of salute if you will. We worked on a lot of kicks, at one point a strange man (not that he was particularly strange, just a stranger to me) was hopping over me and crawling under me while I was in the push-up position (only in China), and I accidentally got hit full force in the helmet by a black belt (I had to shake this one off). All in all, it was a great class. Sometimes, our instructor will make us do push-ups as an incentive to maybe keep our balance longer or something like that. My very large legs got tired and had trouble keeping balance in a kicking position, so I bit the bullet and did some push-ups. However, I misheard the instructor’s intentions, which I thought were rather strict at the time and instead of doing 15 push-ups, the rest of the class waited and watched as I knocked out 50. AND NOBODY SAID A THING ABOUT IT. Thanks for the gains, everyone. I think the best thing for this class would be to have someone come and take pictures, but I’m waiting for us new-comers to look less terrible before I ask someone to do that.