Return to Changsha

Since my last blog over three months ago, a lot has happened in China. Things that were planned, such as going to Hong Kong, didn’t play out quite like I had expected. The winter stayed rough, and the homesickness grew stronger with every day that went by. By the time final exams came during the latter part of January, not only myself but many of my classmates had grown quite tired and we had all lost a bit of our motivation. For me however, my attention was focused on my return trip to America that was scheduled for the very end of January. I was fortunate enough to be able to return home for a few weeks during the Spring Festival. After exams had ended and before I left however, there were many changes in the campus and the surrounding area. Since many of the other students had finished their exams before the foreigners, many students had already returned home, and stores began to close. Even in Back Street, the area behind the foreign student dorm that holds many independent shops and restaurants, had begun to shut down some, as people returned to their homes and spent time with their families. Although the campus was getting a bit quiet right before I left, it apparently became much worse after I left, and became eerily similar to a ghost town, as my friends referred to it.

When the day finally came to return to America, I couldn’t have been more excited. It was a really long and tough journey, but I eventually made it. Being back in America was amazing, and so many things that I used to take for granted felt like luxuries to me (such as having heat and a drying machine). I spent a lot of time eating a lot of the foods that I missed, most notably Taco Bell, and seeing a lot of friends again. Even if I was just relaxing at home, the fact that I was at home and in America made it very enjoyable. It really helped to refresh me, both physically and mentally, from the long time spent in China. Most people that go there for a short time, such as a few weeks or even a couple of months, tend to think of it as paradise. While in many ways that may be true, once you spend a bit more time there and really see the country outside of your vacation bubble, it can be quite exhausting sometimes. That said however, China is still a really great place, especially if you’re a foreigner (normally meaning non-Chinese, but in this case it really applies to non-Asians in general).

In the last week of February, I left America again and returned to China. It was the longest journey I’ve ever made in my life, but after over 30 hours of traveling, I finally made it back to my dorm around 3 A.M., on a particularly warm morning. After I got back, getting used to things again happened very quickly. I was a little worried that my Chinese had gotten rusty while I was back in America, because I didn’t really use it much when I was home and I really didn’t want to much either, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually just about as strong as ever. Class started a few days after I got back, and we all got back into the groove of things.

Since then, a lot of things have happened. As well as strengthening the friendships with many of my current friends here, I’ve made many new friends, and had a chance to experience a lot more of the nightlife in Changsha. I’ve seen many new parts of the city, and discovered some things that I didn’t know existed before. I also just recently returned to my English school to work part-time again. As well as that, I celebrated my 24th birthday here a few weeks ago, and enjoyed St. Patrick’s Day Chinese-style, with some friends from Brazil, India, and Turkmenistan, as well as a few Chinese friends. Definitely one of the more memorable birthdays that I’ve had in my life.

I’ve also been busy planning trips for the near future. Still on the list are Shenzhen and Hong Kong, as well as return trips to Guangzhou, and Shanghai for the 2010 World Expo. As well as that, I’ve been planning my own trip to Beijing sometime in May or June, to visit the the UofL students that go to Bei Wai (Beijing Foreign Studies Univeristy) every summer. I’m actually quite eager to return to Beijing, as it’s a very fun city, and after spending a long time in real China a visit to Beijing is a great way to relax and have some fun. I’m also eager to have some fun with the pirate-like accent found in Beijing, where you can throw r’s onto the ends of words seemingly almost at free will. However, the timing of the trip is a bit difficult, as I’m already quite busy and things will likely only be busier around that time. Despite that, I’m really looking forward to going to Beijing again.

With the HSK exam looming in the distance, I’ve been making every effort to improve my Chinese as much as I can. I’ve found some new ways to expand my vocabulary and understanding, and I feel like I’ve been making a lot of progress. The HSK exam however will be no easy task. As our teachers have informed us, on the HSK exam, there are four sections: Listening, Reading, Grammar, and Comprehensive. I’m not sure what exactly Comprehensive consists of, but I believe it also involves a lot of reading. Thankfully, there is no writing on the HSK exam at all, it’s all multiple choice. However, our teachers have also informed us that the section that you perform the weakest on limits your overall score. So, let’s say you scored an 8 on everything but Listening, and got a 6 on that. From what I understand, that means your overall score is a 6. Which basically means that you need to be really well-prepared for this exam, and you have to work on your weaknesses as much as you can.

In other news, there was a holiday here this past weekend and Monday, known in China as 清明节 (qing ming jie), which literally translates to something like “Clear and Bright Day” but is called “Tomb Sweeping Day” in English. Despite the rather gloomy sound of it, it’s actually not a particularly sad holiday. Qing Ming Jie is all about paying respects to one’s deceased ancestors, and people will travel to where their grandparents or other ancestors are stored, and will sweep and clean their tombs. If they don’t have a tombstone, as many people are cremated and their containers are stored in buildings, then their containers will also be swept and/or cleaned. An interesting holiday, but unfortunately, as a foreigner there wasn’t much for me to do except enjoy the one day off from class.

There are probably an endless number of things and experiences that I can talk about, but I’m going to end this relatively short and just say that a lot has happened in the past few months, and my understanding of and appreciation for China has grown quite a bit. As I spend more time here, I can feel myself growing in ways that I wasn’t able to do back in America. Not only is my Chinese improving more and more, but my understanding of the world and other cultures is growing. It’s not always easy being here, but it’s a truly rewarding experience. And even though I miss home sometimes, I’m really glad that I made the decision to come here and do what I’m doing. It’s an adventure that I will definitely never forget. I would strongly recommend that for anyone who has the opportunity to come to China, do it. But do yourself a favor and take some time to learn about the culture and the people first, because that makes a huge difference.

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