Since February 25th, the Chinese students have resumed school for their spring semester. However, international students don’t begin school until the 4th of March. In order to know what level our Chinese is at, we had to take a placement test. They access you and place you in levels ranging from 1 to 8, with 8 being the hardest international students can take without actually taking normal classes with other Chinese students. The worst part of the test was the 8:30 starting time. There was a reading and writing portion, as well as a speaking portion to access your level of Chinese. Because my roommate and I were up late last night playing on a newly bought dartboard, we went to bed really late. I went into this test, dazed and still very sleepy and went right into it. The test was four pages double sided, that entailed various kinds of questions. Thankfully my reading is the best of my Chinese skills, so I did fairly well. Unfortunately, some questions had quite a bit of ambiguity to them so it ended up coming down to one question or the other. After I finished the writing class, they assessed my level of speaking. I sat face to face with a teacher and we began talking about where I’m from, and the group I came with. We talked for about 5 minutes and she put me into either 4th level or 5th level. Her explanation was because my reading is at a relatively high level, I could be in 5th level, but since my listening could use some work, 4th level could also work. She told me to check out the textbooks since this was only a recommendation. After looking at the book for level 5, I realized what I’m about to get myself into. The translations of the new vocabulary words are in Chinese; there is not an English word to be found. However, I am willing to take this challenge head on and put in all the hours I need to continue to grow as a Chinese speaker.
Today the weather is beyond the levels that are allowable to be outside in. This morning I went to explore the city a little and ended up buying a large map of the world at a bookstore. However, during this endeavor there was a nasty wind blowing and the dirt was just flying into my face. I had a constant dry mouth sensation. I knew something was off about today’s weather. Over the past few days we have had beautiful blue skies and warm weather. So today’s weather was so unexpected. There was a yellow tint in the air, everywhere you went. Turns out that that was a thick layer of dust in the air that is similar to a wood shop classroom. I started to feel exhausted really easily because what I was breathing turned out to be hazardous, extremely hazardous. According to AQI (Air Quality Index), over 100 isn’t healthy, 250 is very unhealthy, and 400 or so is hazardous. So when I returned home I was curious as to just how bad the air quality is. On some of the worst days so far, it’s been in the 700’s which is actually hazardous enough that I would wear a surgical mask to make it easier to breathe. Today’s levels clocked in at 1532 at 4 pm, almost 4x the normal hazardous levels. It’s recommended that if the levels are above 400 you should avoid going outside if you are able. The scale doesn’t mention over 1000 because it shouldn’t get that hazardous. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a surgical mask on me and the air really is thick and painful. Plans for the rest of the day are spent inside. If you are curious about Xi’an pollution, check the website http://aqicn.info/city/xian/
Below are pictures of just how bad it is, and no, there is no sepia filter. That’s as yellow as it looks, this is the worst it’s been for a while.
This was really exciting. To be in another country for their most important holiday of the year. This is comparable to Christmas in America. The whole town is decorated, so you can imagine how the feast is. You eat a large breakfast, and a large dinner and that’s it. When midnight rolls around it’s the New Year, and you eat the dumplings you make with the family. There was a variety of dishes from fish to meat and all kinds of vegetables. I had a few firsts, including mussels, but that wasn’t even close to the weirdest thing I ate. I looked down at the table and saw a bug, some sort of bug. I looked on with a horrific look and with a smile I tried to refuse, but my host mother was insistent. I found out that it was a silk worm… I included pictures about it. It had the hard exterior and a juicy interior. The strangest thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. Overall, the meal was delicious and I topped it off with whats known as 果皮 which is a fruity kind of carbonated drink. This one in particular was 菠萝, very delicious. One word, French Fries!
This was my first experience riding a bus in Xi’an, and I must say it was an interesting one. I learned quite a bit from this ride, remembering that one of my classmates had his cellphone stolen on a bus in Xi’an a few days ago. Today sure was an experience. The bus I was taking was to go to an excellent bookstore, within the city walls, was packed. First I realized I needed to pay close attention to what stop I was at and how many I had left to go because of how bad the announcer speaker was on the bus. Half way through the bus ride I realized that I was getting pick pocketed. I felt someone trying to reach into my back pockets. I subtly checked over my shoulder and realized it was a little girl of 6 or 7. I then realized that a woman kept checking on me to see if I was paying attention. I assumed this was her mother and they were working together using such a clever system to rob foreigners. Even if I had turned around and saw this little girl I couldn’t have accused her of stealing because she would pretend to not know what was going on. I didn’t want to embarrass her, and thankfully I had anticipated this could happen so my phone and wallet were in my front jean pockets where my hands were protecting them. I thought to myself the rest of the bus ride how horrible it was that this mother had taught her daughter that that was the right thing to do.
Sichuan hot pot is very delicious and very expensive. The restaurant was really clean and well ventilated. Servers were constantly checking in on the table to make sure everyone’s needs are being met. My host father ordered a variety of dishes including, shrimp, sheep, cow, and even bullfrog. There is a saying in Chinese 入乡随俗, I may have mentioned before, it means, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. So I decided to eat my fill of bullfrog. If my family hadn’t told me it was bullfrog, I wouldn’t have known. The taste is a little different from beef, but hardly noticeable when soaked in a mixture of sauces. The hot pot is communal. One half of the hot pot was spicy, and one half was not spicy. The Canadian in me decided to shy away from the spicy side, my stomach later thanked me!
It is customary to wash all dirty laundry during this time period. You should also wash your jacket, which I wasn’t aware of. I only brought one jacket and it seemed to frustrate my host mother a little, but I apologized and she seemed okay. It would have been difficult to hand wash a P-coat in a small sink. Afterwards, around 10 we went to eat a big breakfast. During Chinese New Year you only eat 2 meals, breakfast and an early dinner, then at midnight you eat dumplings to celebrate the passing of the New Year. It is customary to buy firecrackers. So, we bought fireworks. My host father and brother were explaining about the firecrackers, or bian pao 鞭炮. Lots of people were in the streets setting them off. There is rarely a silent moment during New Years Eve, everyone is setting off fire works and loud ones. We were walking by a little boy who tossed what seemed to be a relatively small ball at the ground; it made a crack worthy of a sonic boom. He was about a meter away and my ears hurt pretty badly it was so loud. Soon we went to my host fathers mothers house and started the festivities. They were playing mahjong and watching New Year Eve shows. After a little while I actually made dumplings. It was actually really hard to get it exactly right, but I did my best and had a good time. After we ate our midnight meal of dumplings and celebrated. Traditional Chinese New Year states that the parents give the children money in these “Red money bags”. He explained the tradition to me in Chinese so I was a little lost, but I was really excited to be part of this tradition.
We went to a place called Metro（美罗）. It is comparable to Costco and it didn’t disappoint. It was packed with people. I found out that for Chinese New Year they love to eat fish, which is a symbol of luck and prosperity. So we bought a lot of fish. Ranging from clams to crab and shrimp. I told myself when the time comes I will try all of it. I have a safety net because we got some pork chops, and we are going to cook up a hotpot. While I was there with my host mom and host aunt, I was practicing Chinese by trying to read the labels on things. It didn’t go too well, but they were more than willing to help. It was extremely busy though. Getting a cart down the aisle was a nightmare, so much that I stopped trying to maneuver the cart. People would just come and start grabbing things out of your cart to examine them and ask a ton of questions about each thing making the process a whole lot longer. One of the funnier things about this place, was it had very explicit rap music playing on the loud speakers, songs I knew about. I’m sure everyone in that place had no idea what was being said, but it made me laugh because the music didn’t match the atmosphere they were going for. It also wasn’t the most sanitary set up, they had giant slabs of meat hanging from hooks like they would in a butchery freezer, but these were in an open room that was chilled to 0 degrees C. I was taller than nearly everyone in the place, until I realized that there was someone much taller. We passed by this woman who was 6’7”, at least, and towered over everyone. She was of Asian decent, so this definitely a rare sight. My host mother also noticed me eying the ice cream, and she got me some! Loving the experience.