Thursday, September 28, 2006

Military Training

Of the many things that are part of university life in China that American students would never, ever, even consider putting up with, military training is surely one of the most bizarre. This week is military training for the freshman at Hexi, which means that instead of having class they wear matching uniforms and march in line while shouting the numbers "yi! er! san! si!" or "for the service of the people!" all day, every day. Each class has its own military officer, and they were already going at it when I woke up at 6:30 this morning. The girls are particularly amusing to watch, as they usually look like 15 year-olds. This week has been cool but apparently it's common for students to march until they feint in hot weather. The shouting is so loud outside that it's actually pretty distracting while trying to write this.

However, my students are all sophomores so I didn't get out of any classes this week. For some groupwork they had to tell a story about visiting a foreign country. There's been the expected romance in France and kangaroos in Australia, but there have been some more interesting selections - today a student visited Iraq and heard a local complain about the war, and one group described North Korea as a wonderful place to visit, with interesting history and nice scenery. Groups in two different classes chose Japan, but my hopes for the first positive words about the place from Chinese people were let down as they went on about the shocking treatment of women, who are supposedly routinely beaten by their husbands and lacking the hard-won equality of women that the Chinese enjoy. I decided not to mention that China is the only country in the world where more females commit suicide than males. One of these groups asked me to describe Japanese food, and it was obvious they hadn't so much as heard of sushi. That says something about Chinese-Japanese relations that I know more about Japan than they do. More than one group has also gone to Egypt to visit Mohamed, the teacher who left last term, and a group this morning visited New York to attend my wedding.

There are two new young American teachers in Zhangye named Danielle and Stephen, both from the Peace Corps, who look to be bringing a small taste of home to the place. We went out last Friday, one of the few Western "nights out on the town" I've had here so far, and they taught me a Chinese card game. Before meeting them that night, however, it was time for another very vaguely-described performance. I was given an invitation to a "party" (which could mean anything) at 7:30 being put on by the Environmental Society or something of that sort, and told to bring my guitar along. I said I would probably come, but just for a while because I would have other things to do. Of course, when I got home at 8 after dinner I saw I had five missed phone calls, and when I arrived at the music building with my guitar three of my students were standing outside the building waiting for me. There was an official performance list with my name on it, and even better, Andrew's name, next to "harmonica," because once he had made the mistake of playing a simple song he knew in class. He wanted none of that and went to Church, but I dutifully ended up on stage with my rusty-stringed acoustic, performing a brief acoustic version of my song "Seattle" in front of the crowd of over 500, who were crowded into the aisles. Despite my students' best attempts to convince me before I went onstage, I did not wear make-up.

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