OU Asian Food Fair

Today was a good day, because among other reasons, I got to eat some delicious food at OU’s Asian Food Fair. Plus it felt like it was free, because even though it cost $7, I bought the ticket yesterday so it seemed like it was free today. The Asian Food fair is hosted by OU’s Asian American Student Association, and it raises money to provide holiday meals and gifts to underprivileged kids. The food at the food fair was provided by several Asian food restaurants around Norman.

Though I didn’t have time to stay for long, I got to sample several different types of Asian food. To be totally honest, I’m not that adventurous of an eater, plus I had practice this afternoon and I didn’t want to eat anything weird right before practice, so I only tried one thing that was unfamiliar. It turned out to be a desert that was probably coconut milk based and had some fruit and jello in it. It wasn’t bad, so I’d say I made a good choice. Of course, I sampled some more familiar looking dishes from several restaurants

Overall, it was a great way to break up the monotony of always eating the same lunch, and got me thinking about how much I miss Chinese food. Not the stuff you get at Panda Express that’s doused in sweet and sour sauce but the hot pot and Dalian seafood and baozi and $1 fried rice from the sketchy looking shop across the street. I’m not really sure where I was hoping to go with this post, I guess I was just feeling nostalgic. I’ll get back to China someday, if for no other reason than just to see and hear and experience it all again.

Thanks for reading if you made it this far, and thanks to AASA for setting up a great event for a great cause.

Confucius Institute Day

As usual with this blog, it took me a long time to get this post up, but I still think it’s worth posting about. About a month ago was the Confucius Institute hosted an event designed to celebrate the connection between Beijing Normal University and OU and raise awareness about the Confucius Institute and the study abroad scholarships they provide. There were speeches by faculty from Beijing Normal University and OU, performances by Chinese learners from Norman high schools, music, and lots of free Chinese food. As a recipient of the scholarship, I spent a few hours working at a booth telling people about the Confucius Institute Scholarship, and I’ll spend a little bit more time talking about it now.

The Confucius Institute at OU is a really great organization. They provide free Chinese related classes, such as beginning Chinese language, Chinese calligraphy, Chinese paper cutting, and various other Chinese culture courses. They also provide HSK testing, which is an advantage, and sometimes even a necessity, for anyone who wants to study or work in China. Finally, they help students apply to the Confucius Institute scholarship. The Confucius Institute Scholarship is one of the best ones out there for studying in China. It’s not terribly competitive, although you do need to know some Chinese to apply. The application process involves taking the HSK, writing a short essay, choosing a school to apply to, and filling out a fairly easy form. All of this is made even easier by the fact that the lovely people at the OU Confucius Institute will walk you through the whole process.

The Confucius Institute has offices all around the country and world (most of the people I met in China who had received a Confucius Institute Scholarship were from Belarus!), so even if you’re not in Oklahoma it’s still a great resource for learning about China or getting scholarships to go there and study. I would highly encourage anyone who is interested in studying in China to check out the Confucius Institute.

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Chinese Linguistics

This semester I’m taking a class on Chinese Linguistics, and it’s one of the more interesting and useful classes I’ve ever taken. I really wish I could have taken it when I started learning Chinese, because suddenly, a lot of things that seemed random suddenly make sense. This post probably won’t interest anyone unless you like linguistics or speak Chinese, but one of my favorite things about learning Chinese is discovering all the weird ways that it makes sense, even though it seems pretty arbitrary.

For example, “this” and “that” in Chinese are “这” and “那”. But sometimes, even most of the time, you’ll hear people pronounce them as “zhei” or “nei”. I thought that it was just kind of a weird accent, lots of people in Chinese have accents and nobody really pronounces things exactly how they sound on textbook CD’s. But that’s not the case! It actually makes so much sense, because “zhei” and “nei” are just shortened versions of “这一” and “那一” (zhe yi and na yi), meaning “this one” and “that one”. It’s a little thing, but it makes so much more sense now.

If you’ve ever written a paper in Chinese, you’ve hopefully used the great trick of mentioning someone or something with a really long name, and then instead of just using a pronoun, write out the whole name as often as possible to help bring up the character count. Maybe not everyone does that, but I do that. And if you haven’t done it, that’s the way to go when You’ve also probably noticed that if you do this you don’t ever get called out for it. Apparently, that’s because Chinese speakers tend to use third person pronouns a lot less than English speakers do, and it’s totally normal to just say the full name all the time. I never noticed before, but now that I’ve been told this, it’s really noticeable every time I read something in Chinese.

There are a lot of other small things that I found interesting, which I won’t go into here becasue this post would be really long otherwise. I would really encourage everyone learning Chinese, or any second language, to take a linguistics class specific to that language, it uncovers a lot of connections that were unclear before, and helps make sense of all the things about language that seem really arbitrary.

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Chinese Moon Festival

Moon Festival, also called Mid-Autumn Festival, is a Chinese holiday that is somewhat analogous to Thanksgiving in the U.S.. It was initially meant to celebrate the end of harvesting. It also was, and still is, a time for reuniting and spending time with family and friends. The moon is significant in this regard, because even when people are far away from their family, they can still look up and be connected by seeing the same moon. Today, the most important food during moon festival are moon cakes, which are exchanged between family and friends, and usually round to represent the moon. Throughout the holiday’s more than 2000 years of existence, several legends and stories about it have emerged, but the most common by far is the story of Hou Yi and Chang E.

The story goes that long ago, the earth was surrounded by ten suns, which made it quite hot, and all of the crops were drying up. Hou Yi was a skilled archer, who shot nine of the ten suns out of the sky, thereby becoming a very famous hero. As a reward for his work, he was offered an immortality elixir, which he refused to drink because he wanted to stay with his wife, Chang E. Since he was so famous, he had many students who wished to learn from him, one of whom, Pang Meng, who wanted the elixir for himself. Pang Meng tried to steal the elixir when Hou Yi was gone, so Chang E, knowing she couldn’t fight him off, drank the elixir to protect it. The elixir caused her to be immortal and float away to the moon, where legend says she still lives. This legend is commonly told to children on Moon Festival. Much of the art surrounding Moon Festival involves this story, or is based on the rather beautiful notion that even people who are very far apart still see the same moon.

Moon Festival was on September 15th this year, and OU’s Chinese Language Club celebrated with homemade mooncakes, tea, and games. I had fun practicing my Chinese a bit, and trying to learn everyone’s name. I think I’m somehow more outgoing when I speak Chinese. I also gave a short presentation at the beginning of the event on the basics of Moon Festival. It was about the same content as the two paragraphs above, but it was a lot more uncomfortable, because at least half of the audience was Chinese, and they definitely know more about Moon Festival than I do. It was just really strange to give a presentation to someone about their own culture. Fortunately, I didn’t say anything terribly incorrect, and we all forgot about it and enjoyed free moon cakes afterward, but it was still a slightly uncomfortable experience for everyone involved.

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Start of the semester post!

Obviously, it’s the start of the semester which seems like a good time to post and talk about some (okay, only one) of the fabulous international clubs that OU offers. I’m talking about Chinese Language club, the best club there is if you want to practice speaking Chinese and go to cool China-themed events. I’ve been trying to get more involved with CLC this year, so I volunteered to table at the involvement fair and talked to some super cool freshmen who joined our mailing list (Probably some GEF’s in there!). I also became secretary for the club, which is pretty exciting.

This semester we’re hoping to host some small, inexpensive events in addition to the usual Moon Festival and Chinese New Year celebrations, specifically a movie night and language practice sessions. If you’re up for free food and learning about Chinese language and culture (or just watching a movie!), we have cool events for you! I’m really excited to see how Chinese Language Club takes shape this semester because it really does tend to be just a little bit different every year. I really hope it goes well now that I’m partially responsible for how things turn out. I’m especially excited for the Moon Festival celebration, which will be on or near September 15th. I haven’t been able to attend the last few years due to crazy practice schedules and then going abroad, and I want to see what it’s all about! Plus there will be moon cakes, which are delicious.

Here’s to a great semester, everyone!

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The Righteous Among the Nations Talk

Last week was Holocaust remembrance week, and OU hosted a number of events throughout the week to educate people on the Holocaust. There were several interesting talks and films offered, but unfortunately my class and homework schedule conflicted with most of them. I did manage to make it to one talk about the Righteous Among the Nations, which is a topic I didn’t know hardly anything about. I’m still no expert, but now I know more than I did before!
The Righteous Among the Nations is a title given out by the state of Israel that honors people who risked their own lives to help Jews and other persecuted people during the Holocaust. The talk consisted of going over some examples of what exactly the title means (It’s a title that is not given out lightly- only a few extraordinary people have been given the honor), as well as some examples of people who have received this honor. One such example was Oscar Schindler, who saved thousands of people by employing them in his factory. (OU also screened Shindler’s List for Holocaust Remembrance Week, which I have yet to see.)
Probably the most interesting point in the talk was the diversity of the Righteous Among the Nations. They come from 38 different countries, some of which are nowhere near Germany, or even Europe. At a time when a lot of the world, including the U.S., turned a blind eye to what was happening (I’m not going to get into whether or not outside powers knew the extent of what was happening, because I honestly don’t know how much the U.S. or other countries knew. But I do think it was pretty clear that something wrong was going on, and more could have been done to stop it), these people stepped up and did what they could to help people. I think the important takeaway from this is that 1. Sometimes the right thing isn’t the thing that most people are doing, or the easiest thing, and 2. Even things that are far away are relevant. Just because something is happening on a different continent, doesn’t mean we don’t have to care about it, and doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it either. I hope to keep that in mind.

Chinese New Year in the U.S.

One of the things that disappointed me most about studying abroad fall semester father than spring was the fact that I did not get to experience the lunar New Year in China. However, I did get to do the second best thing, which was attend the Chinese New Year celebration with the Chinese Language Club. First of all, let me apologize for being so late. Chinese New Year was 3 months ago or something, but I haven’t had time to write about it.

Before the celebration, some of went to our teacher’s house to help her make jiaozi (dumplings) to serve at the celebration. I’ve made jiaozi before, but it is always a fun activity. Particularly when incredible Chinese teachers who have backyard chickens are involved. This year, we also made some fun jiaozi that looked like bai cai (I think that’s bok choy?) by rolling together plain dough and dough that was colored green with crushed up spinach. Even though I didn’t get to spend the Spring Festival in China, I still got a little bit of taste of how much work Chinese families put into preparing meals for it. Our teacher had already made the dough and filling when we arrived, as well as prepared several other dishes, and we were there for several hours just wrapping the jiaozi.

The actual celebration went really well. Everyone loved the jiaozi (how could they not?), and there was a lot of Chinese candy. There were games like Chinese chess and Majiang, which nobody knew how to play. Apparently, all the people in Chinese Language Club who know how to play Majiang graduated last year. There was also a presentation on the history and mythology behind Chinese New Year. Even though I’ve gone through countless Chinese class presentations on Chinese New Year, I still didn’t know all of the stories that were talked about. Just about everything that Chinese people do on the New Year has meaning behind it. For example, fireworks and the color red are so popular due to a legend involving a demon/dragon creature named Nian. (Nian also means year). On the first day of the year, Nian would attack the villages, eating any crops, livestock, and people who remained outside. The villagers lived in fear, until they learned that Nian feared bright colors and loud noises. To this day, people wear red, set off fireworks, and celebrate loudly to ward off Nian. Chinese New Year is also a time for a lot of interesting Chinese puns. People eat fish for the New Year, because “Year after year have fish” sounds like “Year after year have excess” in Chinese (nian nian you yu). People will also hang signs with the Chinese word for luck (fu) upside down on their doors, because the word for “upside down” sounds the same as the word for “to arrive”, so “luck upside down” (fu dao le) sounds like “luck has arrived” (also fu dao le). There are a lot more interesting Chinese New Year customs that I don’t have time to talk about at the moment, but perhaps another Chinese New Year post can happen next year.

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Watching Movies with the Chinese Language Club

This semester, OU’s Chinese Language Club hosted a screening of Wong Kar-Wai’s film Chungking Express. It was pretty convenient, given that I had to watch the same movie for my Chinese Cinema class, so I went to the screening (I also got to help pick the time, so at that point I really ought to go). There weren’t a lot of people there, in fact, it was just me, OU CLC’s president, one other person who just wanted to watch a movie, and a gigantic box of microwave popcorn. The perfect recipe for a good movie, if you ask me.

Wong Kar-wai is from Hong Kong, so the movie is was actually produced in Hong Kong, not China. (This means that I couldn’t understand any of the lines. It was still a great movie). The film follows two Hong Kong police officers who have recently broken up with their girlfriends as they struggle with loneliness, and eventually find new love. Both characters are extremely lonely and depressed, despite living and working in such a busy and energetic city.

The plot of the movie is a little bit difficult to follow, especially because it transitions abruptly to the second story. Honestly, the appeal of the movie isn’t really in the plot, but in the ways that Wong Kar-wai communicates the plot, and messes with the viewers head a little bit. There are a lot of blurred motion shots, where every sixth frame is extended to cover the next six frames, which makes it feel a bit frantic and crowded. The scenes are mostly at night, with bright signs flashing by against a dark background, which makes for some interesting visuals. There are also a few humorous pieces, but for the most part it’s a serious film.

Overall, it was a fairly good film — I would recommend it if you don’t mind a movie that’s a bit less traditional. Of course, it was also nice to watch with at least one CLC friend!

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OU’s very first Global Engagement Day

One of the requirements of the Global Engagement program is that we attend and participate in OU’s Global Engagement Day. Sine it’s a new program, this year was the very first Global Egnagement day! There were panels to discuss various aspects of studying abroad, as well as an informal “panel”/discussion about meaningful study abroad experiences. I participated in the informal discussion. It was a nice break from endless homework to just sit around with some other GEF’s and talk about study abroad. Of course, we talked about the peculiarities of the countries we studied and lived in, as well as the most crazy things that we did or had happen while we were gone. There were a lot of different experiences, but we definitely had a few things in common:

1. Everyone has trouble with the actual travel part of studying abroad. It seemed like everyone had a story about almost losing their bag, or having trouble at the airport. I guess it’s just statistically unlikely for someone to spend such a long time travelling and have nothing go wrong.

2. Everyone has done at least one really crazy thing. It probably didn’t even seem that crazy when they were doing it. I didn’t think my 50K was that crazy, but everyone else had a different opinion! On the other hand, some of the things that the other GEF’s did seemed impossibly crazy, like live with a stranger for a few weeks. (Then again, I did stay with a complete stranger I met at the airport my first night, so I guess I get it)

I’m disappointed that I had class during the rest of Global Engagement Day, because I would have liked to hear from some of the other panels, but I’m glad I was at least able to participate in something. And I guess the overall takeaway from this is if you go abroad, don’t freak out when travelling goes wrong, and make sure to do at least one thing that’s a little bit crazy.

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Reflections from my semester abroad

I’ve been back for quite a while now, which seems like the perfect time to write some sort of reflection post. I’ll keep it short, and basically just talk about some things that I’m so thankful for now that I’m back, as well as some other reflections on last semester.

Things I’m thankful for:
1. Being able to talk to my friends and family easily. It’s so nice to only be one time zone away from my family and be able to call people during the day rather than always having to wait until 9 pm.
2. Warm showers, dryers, and other similar comforts. Dryers save so much time. It’s unbelievable.
3. Having a kitchen. China has amazing food for cheap, but I definitely missed being able to just cook for myself.
4. Having my own room. I really really love being able to just have a space that is mine and that I can lock everyone else out of for a while. I guess I didn’t really experience any of the problems with having a roommate freshman year in the dorms because my roommate was amazing, but I definitely experiences some of those problems in China.
5. My primary education in the U.S. Elementary, middle, and high school schedules in China are crazy, because the middle school, high school, and college you go to are all based on your performance at the previous level and on national tests, so the stress of studying for the SAT begins in elementary school, and it’s worse because people only get one chance to take the gao kao. I’m so glad I didn’t have to go through that.
6. Understanding everything. I guess this is a given, but it’s just so much less stressful to immediately understand the language and cultural references.

General reflections:
1. It’s so much easier to get homework done when you don’t know people. I spent so much more time studying in China than I ever would be able to in the U.S. because I didn’t really know anybody to waste time with, and everyone I knew in the U.S. was sleeping when I was awake. I also didn’t really have much internet access which made me extremely productive. Overall, I would much rather have people to talk to, but sometimes I do miss just being able to sit and work on homework without any texts or anyone knocking on my door.
2. Learning a language is really hard. Before I went to China I thought that I would be fluent when I came back. Unfortunately, I still don’t think I’m really fluent. My Chinese has improved a lot, but I still take a long time to understand what people say, and there are still countless characters that I don’t know.
3. A lot of things can become normal. If I thought about it, I would realize how incredible my life was, but if I didn’t remind myself everyday that I was in China it was easy to just settle into a normal routine. Occasionally something crazy like a purple three wheeled truck would catch me off guard, but I was surprised how much I felt the same as I do here.
4. People around the world are somehow both more different than you thought and more similar than you thought at the same time. I would never have been able to imagine any of my classmates’ stories, but at the same time we all had a lot in common. I remember clearly walking home with my classmates one day, and one of them saying “现在,年轻人的性格都差不多”, (“Now young people’s personalities are all about the same”). I don’t really think that’s true, but I do think we have a lot more in common than we might think.